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Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs.

Vollmann's newest book is, like The Rainbow Stories, a linked collection of novellas and stories, and like his earlier book is peopled mostly by the demimonde of San Francisco, with a few set in Third World locales. "These stories are all epitaphs," Vollmann writes in an author's note, and there is a valedictory, memorial air hanging over most of these pieces as Vollmann tells autobiographical tales of people he's known. His photographer friend Ken Miller appears in many of them - Dean Moriarty to Vollmann's Sal Paradise - as does the mournful Elaine Suicide, the focus (heroine is hardly the word) of the two longest and best stories in the collection, "The Ghost of Magnetism" and "The Handcuff Manual." In between the thirteen stories are thirteen brief "epitaphs," ranging from a paragraph to a few pages, each a concentrated vignette of death or loss. The stylistic range is wide: "The Ghost of Magnetism' recalls Visions of Cody-era Kerouac, while "The Grave of Lost Stories" is a deliberate homage to Poe; the other stories use what is sometimes called "dirty realism," but are enlivened with unexpected bursts of lyricism and Vollmann's mordant humor. It is his saddest book, and one of his finest.

Vollmann is publishing so many books these days (three last year, now this one, Butterfly Stories and The Rifles within the next nine months) that his brilliance runs the risk of becoming taken for granted. There's no telling how much longer he will be able to keep up this prodigious rate of production, however, so readers are well advised to take nothing for granted and to savor each new book by this remarkable writer. [Steven Moore]
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Moore, Steven
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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