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William T. Vollmann: The Rifles

This is the third book published in the Seven Dreams sequence, though the sixth chronologically. It is also the shortest to date, weighing in at a mere 411 pages. It is also the least interesting to date. Vollmann has never been afraid to stick himself in his own novels, whether as William the Blind, the narrator of Fathers and Crows or his journalism in The Ice-Shirt. Here he is as Captain Subzero, an Arctic tourist (as Vollmann himself was), having an affair with Reepah, an Inuit woman. More to the point, he equates Vollmann/Captain Subzero to the real main character of this novel, John Franklin, leader of the ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. To equate Franklin and his wife Jane with Vollmann/Subzero and Reepah just does not work. Of course, Vollmann continues his theme of the exploitation of the native population by European immigrants, this time not just Captain Subzero’s action but, as the title clearly shows, the influence of the rifle on the Inuit population as well as the Canadian government’s relocation of the Inuit. Maybe doing one out of sequence lets him get carried away but this one is the weak link so far.

Publishing history

First published 1994 by Viking