cover image The Rainbow Stories

The Rainbow Stories

William T. Vollmann. Atheneum Books, $19.95 (541pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11961-3

This stunning collection consists of 13 knockout stories, ranging in length from a few pages to a short novel, corresponding idiosyncratically to the colors of the spectrum. With an intensity and dexterity previously evinced in You Bright and Risen Angels , Vollman shifts mood from the leisurely, almost-detached account of the brutal contemporary San Francisco streetlife of skinheads (``White Knights'') and prostitutes (``Ladies and Red Lights'') to the surreal ``Scintillant Orange,'' in which we meet three biblical martyrs to Babylonian Nabuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. ``Indigo Engineers'' juxtaposes mechanized objects of destruction, built for a sort of performance-art piece, with the just-following-orders mentality of Nazis. A serial killer with a dual personality murders winos with Drano in ``The Blue Yonder,'' which documents the lives of alcoholics living in shelters or parks. Whether recounting a tale of a band of Indian thugs a la Munchausen, laconically noting episodes in personal relationships or dealing with the relentless realism of skinheads and hookers, Vollman writes with deadpan humor, self-assurance and incredible ability. (July)