America and William T. Vollman by Nick

I once worked in a used bookstore here in Tulsa. Between customers, I ate the peanut butter, crackers, and ramen noodles the owner had stashed behind the desk. I pretty much worked solely for free books. By the end of my tenure there I had a pile of b-movie SciFi, Louis L’Amour paperbacks, and some weird, hippie esoteric fare. I guess it was foolhardy of me to believe the owner would pay me with leather bound American Indian ledgers or his signed copy of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day. Rent was due in a week and my dream of becoming the owner’s surrogate son, given a store key, and eventually inheriting the store within a matter of months wasn’t starting to look too promising. I quit and moved on to Mcjob, one where the customers weren’t nearly as interesting; the boss was a jerk and the tasks menial. This was a job where dreams go to die. Where the hope of being content with one’s life disappears as you clocked in at 6:30 a.m. Before I left the used bookstore, before my dreams of operating a quaint used bookstore in the quaint midtown area, and before dreams of a Monte Cristo-type escape danced behind my eyes at the soul-sucking Mcjob, the owner handed me a William T. Vollman book and said ‘Nick, let me introduce you to the next great American Novelist.’ Now, the book he handed me was Europe Central, which, while a great novel on its own, certainly begs the question: Can the next great American Novelist not even write ‘American’ novels? I’m not sure I can tackle that question here, but what I can do is introduce you to Vollman’s vision of America. Not quite dystopian, and certainly not a ‘picket fence in suburbia’ vision either, Vollman’s Riding Toward Everywhere follows Vollman as he hops freight trains across America, much like farm hands and ‘hobos’ did during the Great Depression. Part cultural study, part quixotic travelogue (not unlike a more grounded version of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer) and all vintage Vollman. Riding Toward Everywhere carries all the heft of Vollman’s unique observations, his vision of America while hurtling through the countryside on two rails at 40+ miles per hour, his inimitable take on class, race, and ‘America’ (which means something a bit different to everyone, you know). You may not find the whacked out bravado Vollman’s known for in his fiction, but his genuine curiosity for a genuinely American experience will not go unnoticed in this splendid non fiction work.

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