Sure, it sounds great. Seventeen years' labor, semi-famous author [perhaps best known for his RSI injuries and tendency to ramble on at great length], Northern California celebrity.
However, after finishing volume I, skimming volume II, and flipping through some of the weirdly college-term-paper-like outlines in volume MC, I really have no idea what the hell Vollmann is getting at here. Apparently, the bulk of the book can be summed up thusly:
- I like guns. With my gun, I feel more secure that my "Asian girlfriend" won't "get raped."
- I knew some guys that protested a nuclear plant's construction in 1980. We ran away when the police told us to.
- Dude, I was in Bosnia. I was shot at. Some folks I hired got killed. Pretty cool, huh?
So... I'm baffled. What the hell is any of this supposed to achieve? I hate it when you've spent a day or so reading only to discover that you have absolutely no idea why someone would have generated such a mound of text. Add some childishly awful drawings [of the author's favorite guns], some weird phrasings [women seem to "get raped" a lot, which makes it sound like it's their own damn fault], and an awful lot of interesting quotes without any obvious framework, and it starts to feel like an elaborate sham, kind of like Lacan manqué or something. Ugh.
The point where I finally decided it was time to put the book down as the lengthy series of photos of Iraqi children - awww, the cute little buggers! - who had been wounded by American bombs in Gulf War I. He'd gone to Iraq a few years ago to be shown American war atrocity sites by Iraqi government employees - there's a picture of a room, for example, with Iraqi children's skin burned onto the ceiling.
Similarly, there's a bit - if I remember correctly - where he talks about how wrong it was for the USA to force NATO to help a Kosovar uprising in Yugoslavia.
I guess I'm just disappointed that some questions of violence - specifically when it's acceptable to invade another nation to put an end to other people's suffering, even if by doing so you may cause suffering yourself - are simply not addressed, presumably because Vollmann holds certain truths to be self-evident.