The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Scott Esposito on reviewing:

The essence of Levi's argument seems to be that Vollmann writes too much and he doesn't write well. In support of this he trots out a couple of quotes from the first few pages of Europe Central and makes fun of them. Okay, that's funny, but I don't think it makes much of a point about Vollmann's writing.

Actually, I happen to agree with Levi that the telephone chapter of Europe Central (the part he quotes from) is pretty weak. Vollmann's books are huge and they could do with some pruning--the telephone chapter would have been one of the things I'd have streamlined.

However, I will say this much in Vollmann's favor: telephone communications are a theme running through all of Europe Central. Many of the key characters (e.g. Shostakovich) have their phone tapped, and the idea that the telephone as an "octopus"--a beast with several arms that can reach into anyone's home and grab them--is an important concept for Vollmann to establish up front. It sets the stage for the book. For instance, in one tense chapter a telephone is used by Hitler to grasp at a besieged general during urban warfare in Stalingrad. The idea that the State, as represented by the telephone, can always reach out and grab you is prevalent throughout the book, and the telephone chapter was Vollmann's attempt to set this metaphor up. However, this only becomes apparent once you've gotten into the book, so I can see how it would be confusing to most people when you open the book and it's the first thing you read. That's why with Vollmann, and any other author, I don't think it's fair to just pull a few quotes and render judgment.


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