The Rifles

Overview

Vaulting through time to another flashpoint in the long struggle between Indians and Europeans, William T. Vollmann's visionary fictional history now focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest Passage. As Sir John Franklin embarks on his fourth Arctic voyage, he defies the warnings of the native people, and his journey ends in ice and death. But his spirit lingers in the Canadian north, where 150 years later, in 1990, Inuit elders dream of long-gone seal-hunting ...

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Overview

Vaulting through time to another flashpoint in the long struggle between Indians and Europeans, William T. Vollmann's visionary fictional history now focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest Passage. As Sir John Franklin embarks on his fourth Arctic voyage, he defies the warnings of the native people, and his journey ends in ice and death. But his spirit lingers in the Canadian north, where 150 years later, in 1990, Inuit elders dream of long-gone seal-hunting days and teenagers sniff gasoline. And when a white man seduces and leaves pregnant a young Indian woman, he becomes Franklin reincarnated, bound for the same fate. Vollmann's vivid characters and landscapes weave together the stories of the past and present to live out America's ongoing tragedy of greed, ignorance, and violence.

The latest installment of Vollmann's seven-part epic chronicling the clash of Europeans and Native Americans in the New World. Volume six focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest passage.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Rifles is the ``sixth dream'' in Vollmann's staggeringly ambitious Seven Dreams sequence, which promised to be an imaginative charting of the European conquest and settling of North America. And it is the third dream to be published (Vollmann is breaking chronological order), following The Ice-Shirt and Fathers and Crows , which detailed the Viking arrival in Newfoundland at the end of the first millenium and the French foray into the St. Lawrence River region in the middle of the second, respectively . The Rifles jumps to about 1850 and chronicles, in a highly impressionistic manner (though, like all Vollmann's work, it is prodigiously researched and gracefully written), Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. By now, more than 2000 pages into the Dreams project, an evolving structure is becoming evident. Whereas in the previous two books, contemporary references were kept to a minimum, in this volume the authorial present, in the guise of Captain Subzero, is a strong structural element. In fact, the central imaginative conceit is that Subzero/Vollmann (the author's own trip to the Arctic Circle is detailed in the endnotes) becomes a spiritual ``twin'' of Franklin, even sharing the same Inuk woman. Readers wishing for a dramatic re-creation of Franklin's expedition will be disappointed, for Vollmann is more interested in the cultural clash between Europeans and Arctic natives, and the rough fates of both. The elliptical, frenetically snapshot style grows tiresome at times, and one has the sense that Vollmann is desperately at work on historical material that is yielding little that is new, making his own increased presence a necessity. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In an endnote to the latest installment in a projected seven-volume series, Vollmann states, ``I have mixed my colors . . . from the palate of times.'' The Rifles addresses three historical topics in one hallucinatory narrative: the disastrous Franklin expedition to the North Pole in the 1840s, the Canadian government's forced relocation of Inuit families in the 1950s, and the devastating effects of Western technology on indigenous peoples. Captain Subzero, the book's narrator, journeys to Northern Canada in the 1990s, where he encounters the gasoline-sniffing descendants of a once-proud hunting race. Obsessed with Franklin, he retreats to a remote island outpost to experience cold and starvation firsthand. Huddled in his useless high-tech sleeping bag, Subzero ``becomes'' Franklin in a long fever dream that comprises most of the book. The text is augmented by maps, drawings, bibliographical notes, and a ``consumer's report'' on the equipment used. The Rifles is the best of the ``Seven Dreams'' series and one of Vollmann's most enjoyable books.-- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
From Barnes & Noble
Sixth in a series of critically acclaimed historical novels examining the clash of Native Americans & their European colonizers. "The Seven Dreams sequence is likely to become one of the masterpieces of the century."--Madison Smartt Bell, Chicago Tribune.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140176230
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/1995
  • Series: Seven Dreams Series , #6
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.63 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann is the author of eight novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and Rising Up and Rising Down, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. Vollman's writing has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, Esquire, Conjunctions, Granta, and many other magazines. He lives in California.

Biography

Fearless, ambitious, and wildly original, William T. Vollmann has been lionized as one of the most significant and influential voices in contemporary postmodernist literature. His dauntingly voluminous books, a hodgepodge of fiction and journalism, are marked by bold, often beautiful language. They also spring from personal experience: Volmann is famous for total immersion in his subjects. His research has taken him to the ends of the earth – to the North Pole, to war zones around the globe, and (perhaps most famously) to San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin district to gain a better understanding of its notorious denizens..

Vollmann roared onto the literary scene in 1987 with You Bright and Risen Angels, a bold and quirky debut novel that chronicled in allegorical fashion the bitter battle between insects and the inventors of electricity. From that point on, his books became less surreal and more gritty. In 1992, he wrote his first "official" work of nonfiction, An Afghanistan Picture Show , an impressionistic chronicle of his experiences among the Afghan rebels in the early 1980s. Since then, the prolific author has produced an unstoppable juggernaut of prose, most notably installments in his towering fictional sequence Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes and a labyrinthine seven-volume treatise on violence called Rising Up, Rising Down. Published by the iconoclastic publishing house McSweeney's in 2003, this magnum opus was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.

In 1999, The New Yorker named Vollmann one of the 20 best American writers under the age of 40. In 2005, he was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction for Europe Central, a 750-page series of linked stories set in Germany and Russia during World War II. His journalism continues to appear in such magazines as Esquire, Spin, Gear, Outside, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, and The New Yorker. In addition, he has founded the Co-Tangent Press as a vehicle for publishing his own limited edition art books.

Good To Know

Vollmann wrote his first novel, You Bright and Risen Angels, while working as a computer programmer.

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    1. Also Known As:
      m the Blind, Captain Subzero
    2. Hometown:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 28, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Santa Monica, California
    1. Education:
      Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University

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