Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Marty Demarest


Don't expect easy definitions from William T. Vollmann. His latest book, Argall, says conflictingly on the cover: "A Novel." Then lower: "The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith." Further confusing Argall's identity is the fact that it's the third book in Vollmann's ongoing series of "Dream" novels. With its wildly Elizabethan prose and bewildering punctuation, this is a strange book indeed.


Taking the story of the Virginia settlers as his topic, Vollmann reminds us that historians are always dreaming of past events from the comfort of their present beds. And there's nothing that Vollmann, the unrepentant lover of prostitutes and junkies, likes to do more than shake out our sheets and show us a few stains. He upsets how we view both the past and the present, calling into question the very nature of history.


But a terrific engine of mental and artistic power burns and throbs in this book's unsettling frame. Vollmann is Shakespearean in his blending of history and psychology. The noxious Argall, planning his conquest of Pocahontas, decides that as both a princess and a "savage," she would be her own undoing. He asks himself: "She may be able to withstand you, but how can she o'erthrow herself?" And so he waits, planning to give her to another man, "for bestowing a soul away can be a deeper & amp; more hurtful mode of taking." Scenes like this -- barely a page in length -- transcend volumes of moralizing and political correction. What we have are the aspirations and contradictions of a nation devoured by a literary character. It's breathtaking, and it will probably make Vollmann one of America's future Nobel laureates.


Argall is a wonderful corrective to readers who think that a novel only progresses in one direction. With Vollmann, the pages go along in order, but the novel itself can move in any direction the author's imagination wants to travel. This can be frustrating -- intentionally so -- and with more than 700 pages and a historical subject to tackle, prospective readers deserve a warning. But any difficulty is worth the masterstroke of the final chapter. Nothing more than a list of current landmarks in Pocahontas' country, it shows that maps are written by the dominant culture. Centuries later, the colonizers have themselves been conquered -- by Hooters and the savage Whopper. Ha ha... and ouch.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • When a Horse Isn't a Horse
  • When a Horse Isn't a Horse

    Gambling machines help Idaho's racing industries limp along — but maybe not for long
    • Jan 28, 2015
  • 'The Time Has Come'
  • 'The Time Has Come'

    Idaho considers protections for sexual orientation; plus, a new Spokane City Council candidate emerges
    • Jan 28, 2015
  • Freeze Frame
  • Freeze Frame

    Some want to limit the release of footage from police body cameras. What would that mean for Spokane?
    • Jan 28, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
10th Annual Souper Bowl

10th Annual Souper Bowl @ Selkirk Lodge

Sun., Feb. 1, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Marty Demarest

  • The Cowboy's Cowboy
  • The Cowboy's Cowboy

    A Canadian sings about the life —  not just the lifestyle — of the new West
    • May 15, 2013
  • Completing the Trilogy
  • Completing the Trilogy

    Mass Effect has finally arrived
    • May 23, 2012
  • Minecraft
  • Minecraft

    Adventure and survival too often give way to mindless crafts in this building-block simulator.
    • Feb 8, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Say 'No' to Fear

    Why Spokane ought to embrace its roots as an immigrant-friendly place
    • Jan 21, 2015
  • Crossroads

    A high-profile retailer is eyeing a particular block of downtown Spokane; what that might mean for the Central City Line
    • Jan 7, 2015
  • More »

© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation