A New Dream

Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes

Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes is a series of novels by William T. Vollmann concerned with the settlement of North America and the conflicts between the settlers and the natives. Each volume focuses on a different expedition in North American history, highlighted by digressions and chronological surprises, all narrated by  “William the Blind.” Eventually the series will consist of seven novels; four books have been published so far.

  • Volume 1: The Ice-Shirt (1990) is about the arrival of the Vikings in North America. [9th-10th cent.]
  • Volume 2: Fathers and Crows (1992) is about the efforts of Jesuit Missionaries in Canada. [16th-18th cent.]
  • Volume 3: Argall (2001), written in a seventeenth-century prose style, is about the settlement of Jamestown. [17th cent.]
  • Volume 4: The Poison Shirt (unpublished), either “concerning the Puritans vs. King Philip of Rhode Island,”[1] or Captain Cook’s voyage to Hawaii.[2] [17th or 18th cent.]
  • Volume 5: The Dying Grass (2013), “about the destruction of the Plains Indian tribes.”[3] [18th-19th cent.]
  • Volume 6: The Rifles (1994) is about Sir John Franklin’s attempt in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific, and also discusses Vollmann’s experiences among the 1990s Inuit. [19th-20th cent.]
  • Volume 7: The Cloud-Shirt (unpublished), “Navajo vs. Hopi (or possibly Navajo vs. oil company) in Arizona.”[4] [20th cent.]

I have collected all the published volumes but admittedly have not read them as yet. I think I was originally waiting to get all the volumes together and to make sure I read them in order; unfortunately, Vollmann has not written or published them in order so I probably need to abandon that idea. Right now I have The Ice-Shirt, Fathers and Crows, Argall, and The Rifles on the shelf and am eagerly awaiting the publication of The Dying Grass which is scheduled for 2013.That only leaves The Poison Shirt and The Cloud-Shirt and the set is complete!

But a warning:  there have been several series or sets of books published that disappeared very quickly. Yes, if The Dying Grass goes into remainders you can save a lot of money; but if you want that hardbound edition, maybe it’s better not to delay. I did this with the Penguin edition of A la recherche du temps perdu and have a beautiful set of matching books for display … well, almost … I delayed too long for the first volume and only have Swann’s Way in the paper edition. Of course, since I have at least three other editions of the Proust, I needn’t complain, but every time I look at that shelf I grind my teeth … just a little bit.

With much of Vollmann’s fiction the reader is forced to accept history (or apparent history) which is wrapped in fiction … or is it fiction with a creamy historical center? Well, even if it’s a breath mint, Vollmann is a friendly writer, makes few demands on the reader (other than the number of pages), and is both entertaining and enlightening at the same time. I live William Vollmann:  he is a prolific and fascinating writer and he is also an interesting character in his own right.

Vollmann is a good author to have on your reading list. Here is his bibliography to date (from Wikipedia):

Novels & Collections

  • You Bright and Risen Angels (1987)
  • The Rainbow Stories (1989) (collection)
  • 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs (1991) (collection)
  • The Atlas (1996) (collection)
  • Europe Central (2005)
  • Last Stories (2014) (collection)

Seven Dreams series

  • The Ice-Shirt (1990) (Volume One)
  • Fathers and Crows (1992) (Volume Two)
  • Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (2001) (Volume Three)
  • The Rifles (1994) (Volume Six)
  • The Dying Grass (2013) (Volume Five)

The “Prostitution Trilogy”

  • Whores for Gloria (1991)
  • Butterfly Stories: A Novel (1993)
  • The Royal Family (2000)

Non-fiction

  • An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World (1992)
  • Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means (2003)
  • Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (2006) (Part of the “Great Discoveries” series)
  • Poor People (2007)
  • Riding Toward Everywhere (2008)
  • Imperial (2009)
  • Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater (2010)
  • Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan (2011) (eBook)

Unpublished and Rare Works

  • The Song of Heaven: Grammar and Rhetoric in Literature and Political Action (1981)
  • Welcome to the Memoirs (autobiography, later reworked as An Afghanistan Picture Show) (1983)
  • The Convict Bird: A Children’s Poem (1988) (bound with steel plates)
  • The Happy Girls (1990) (hand-painted and bound with metal plates, later included in 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs)
  • The Grave of Lost Stories (1993) (bound in steel and marble box, originally included in 13 Stories and 13 Epitaphs)
  • Wordcraft: Hints and Notes (circa 2000) (writer’s handbook)
  • Burning Songs (circa 2000) (poems)
  • The Book of Candles (1995-2008) (ten poems, in wooden box)

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