Reporting from San Francisco – William T. Vollmann hardly looks like one of the most ambitious authors of his generation. Walking on Haight Street in his rumpled jeans, ball cap and black T-shirt, shoulders bowed beneath a heavy backpack, he seems an older version of the street kids who still congregate in the tawdry heart of Haight-Ashbury — young men mostly, carrying bedrolls, panhandling for change. In a lot of ways, these are Vollmann’s people: outsiders, on the fringes, whom society tends to disregard. Outsiders have motivated his writing, from his 1987 debut novel, “You Bright and Risen Angels,” which posits a war between insects and human beings, through his most recent effort, the monumental “Imperial” (Viking: 1,306 pp., $55), which tracks another kind of conflict: the battles, real and metaphorical, that define Imperial County — battles over immigration and water, identity and the reach and limitations of political power. The book, which came out in August, is perhaps the clearest expression of Vollmann’s career-long commitment to immerse himself in complexities.
more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.