cover image Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs

Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs

William T. Vollmann / Author Pantheon Books $24 (318p) ISBN 97

The prolific Vollmann has made his career mining two veins: the mytho-history of the settling of North America ( Fathers and Crows ; The Ice-Shirt ) and the dark margins of contemporary life ( Whores for Gloria ; The Rainbow Stories ) . This collection of stories and short meditations on death is of the second type. As always in Vollmann's work, the line between fantasy and reportage is blurred. Here, the pimps, prostitutes, skinheads and weapons enthusiasts familiar to Vollmann's readers are subjected to some wild literary pyrotechnics. In ``The Ghost of Magnetism,'' the narrator, existentially distraught about the impermanence of human relations, visits the four points of the compass radiating from San Francisco--Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Las Vegas--and at a casino magically produces coins imprinted with the faces of his friends; as he drops them into the one-armed bandits he sees icons of his past roll up on the machine, a weird but affecting symbology of loss. Unfortunately, Vollmann's other devices do not work as well; for the first time, literary pretension has crept into his work--e.g., a raid on Edgar Allan Poe texts (``The Grave of Lost Stories'') falls flat. Still, Vollmann's walk on the wild side of world culture--there are stories set in Vietnam, Thailand and Belize--confirms him as one of America's most intrepid fictional frontiersmen. (May)