BOOKS: Self-Love in a Cold Climate

The latest installment of a historical cycle is crippled by author William T. Vollmann's fascination with one character: himself

A solipsistic imbalance distorts and threatens to destroy William T. Vollmann's brooding, idiosyncratic novel cycle, Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes. Corruption of native inhabitants by Europeans is the broad theme of this enormously ambitious project, and the first two volumes, The Ice-Shirt, about Greenland, and Fathers and Crows, about the settling of Quebec, presented the author's bleak argument with stinging force. What he argues for is a vision of absolute evil: civilization, native cultures not excepted, is a pestilence, and mankind is a monstrous curse laid upon nature.

Where the imbalance enters is in an irritating secondary theme,...

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