WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN’S latest collection of fiction is small by his own standards, fewer than 700 pages, but even a collection of ghost stories can’t escape the author’s penchant for exploring every nook and cranny of his subject. Though simply described as a series of ghost stories, the collection reads more like a meditation on mortality, exploring the emotions and mythologies of varying cultures and time periods, and getting intimate with death’s relatives like war and sex. The stories are often set in places where Vollmann has spent time on previous nonfiction projects — as the author explains, he built most of this collection from discarded scraps in old notebooks — but quickly the stories become unmoored from reality and take on a life of their own.

“I can approach death in different ways,” says Vollmann. “It can be an erotic, sexy death like in some of those Japanese stories, or some really grim death as in the Bohemian stories, but it doesn’t really matter. Because we’re looking into a dead skull’s eye sockets, and the dead skull is not looking back at us. Or if it is, we’re not understanding what that gaze means — it probably means nothing. So the only way to approach death is to project.”


Vollmann spoke to LARB’s C.P. Heiser and Jerry Gorin before reading at Skylight Books. Also check out our review of Vollmann’s new book from contributor Ira Wells.