Synopses & Reviews
Vollmann is a relentlessly curious, endlessly sensitive, and unequivocally adventurous examiner of human existence. He has investigated the causes and symptoms of humanity's obsession with violence (Rising Up and Rising Down
), taken a personal look into the hearts and minds of the world's poorest inhabitants (Poor People
), and now turns his attentions to America itself, to our romanticizing of "freedom" and the ways in which we restrict the very freedoms we profess to admire.
For Riding Toward Everywhere, Vollmann himself takes to the rails. His main accomplice is Steve, a captivating fellow trainhopper who expertly accompanies him through the secretive waters of this particular way of life. Vollmann describes the thrill and terror of lying in a trainyard in the dark, avoiding the flickering flashlights of the railroad bulls; the shockingly, gorgeously wild scenery of the American West as seen from a grainer platform; the complicated considerations involved in trying to hop on and off a moving train. It's a dangerous, thrilling, evocative examination of this underground lifestyle, and it is, without a doubt, one of Vollmann's most hauntingly beautiful narratives.
Questioning anything and everything, subjecting both our national romance and our skepticism about hobo life to his finely tuned, analytical eye and the reality of what he actually sees, Vollmann carries on in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn, providing a moving portrait of this strikingly modern vision of the American dream.
"In this sometimes heavy-handed though brief (especially for Vollmann) memoir of hopping trains and riding the rails, Vollmann, National Book Award winner for Europe Central, explores a personal and national obsession. 'From a certain open boxcar in a freight train heading the wrong way,' he writes, 'I have enjoyed pouring rain, then birds and frogs, fresh yellow-green wetness of fields.' Taking to the rails out West, Vollmann sometimes travels with buddies pursuing the same thrill, the same freedom people have long associated with railroads. Other times, he meets up with grizzled hobos and degenerates, reflecting on himself and his reasons for risking life and limb to see America from a speeding freight train. 'Whatever beauty our railroad travels bestow upon us comes partly from the frequent lovely surprises of reality itself,' he says, 'often from the intersection of our fantasies with our potentialities.' While he never really gets around to fully explaining his own reasons for doing so he makes long, curlicue allusions to his restless soul and search for deeper meanings of things Vollmann pieces together a kind of patchwork portrait of the lusts and longings of a nation torn by social inequity and riven with anger about the current state of affairs, especially but not limited to the war in Iraq and the ongoing sadness of American overseas misadventures. Through the self-indulgent mist, though, a sharper picture emerges. Vollmann captures an ongoing romantic vision of America a nation always on the move, nervous and jittery, and never really satisfied with itself." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Vollmann captures an ongoing romantic vision of America a nation always on the move, nervous and jittery, and never really satisfied with itself." School Library Journal
"Sometimes entertaining, sometimes annoying: an essay that takes the reader on a trip around the author's psyche." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
William T. Vollmann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories, and a seven-volume critique of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. He is also the author of Poor People, a worldwide examination of poverty through the eyes of the impoverished themselves; Riding Toward Everywhere, an examination of the train-hopping hobo lifestyle; and Imperial, a panoramic look at one of the poorest areas in America. He has won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize and a Whiting Writers' Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Spin and Granta. Vollmann lives in Sacramento, California.