Supernaturally tinged stories from William T. Vollmann, author of the National Book Award winner Europe Central
In this magnificent new work of fiction, his first in nine years, celebrated author William T. Vollmann offers a collection of ghost stories linked by themes of love, death, and the erotic.
A Bohemian farmer’s dead wife returns to him, and their love endures, but at a gruesome price. A geisha prolongs her life by turning into a cherry tree. A journalist, haunted by the half-forgotten killing of a Bosnian couple, watches their story, and his own wartime tragedy, slip away from him. A dying American romances the ghost of his high school sweetheart while a homeless salaryman in Tokyo animates paper cutouts of ancient heroes.
Are ghosts memories, fantasies, or monsters? Is there life in death? Vollmann has always operated in the shadowy borderland between categories, and these eerie tales, however far-flung their settings, all focus on the attempts of the living to avoid, control, or even seduce death. Vollmann’s stories will transport readers to a fantastical world where love and lust make anything possible.
In the note to the reader that opens this huge collection, Vollmann (Europe Central) states, "This is my final book. Any subsequent productions bearing my name will have been composed by a ghost." Vollmann's fiction has always defied easy categorization. Here, he straddles, twists, and morphs action-adventure, horror, political thriller, fantasy, and literary fiction. What gives the book coherence is his singular style: elaborate and picaresque, with a rich vocabulary, an abundance of long and loopy sentences, and an irresistible energy. He's a yarn spinner, in the tradition of Lovecraft and Dinesin, and his subplots and digressions are woven elegantly into the main narratives. The 32 stories are grouped geographically for the most part. The three set in Bosnia and Herzegovina depict the horrors and insanity of war. The novella, "The Treasure of Jovo Cirtovich," set in Trieste, combines religion, myth, and romance into an 18th-century high seas adventure. Mainstays of horror and the supernatural figure prominently, and it's especially exciting to read these pop-fiction conventions treated with Vollmann's narrative richness. Related stories "The Faithful Wife" and "Doroteja," both set in Bohemia, feature a ghost and a vampire, respectively. The longest piece in the book, "When We Were Seventeen," is set in the U.S.; it's a sweeping and sensuous tale of lust and longing, featuring a witch. Here's hoping that Vollmann changes his mind about this being the end.