Thursday, March 08, 2007

"There's just so much reality out there."

I went to the Barnes & Noble on 6th and 22nd today to see William T. Vollman read from his new book, Poor People. Seems like a nice guy, incidentally. Took the time to speak to people while he was signing books and personalize the books with little drawings. Anyway, the book was published by Ecco, which is an imprint that I think puts out really interesting stuff. It's basically a series of vignettes in which Vollman speaks to poor people, which is pretty much as depressing as it sounds. Here's the end bit of what he read:

She didn't know anything.

Do you have some dream for your future?

Yawning, head now listless on her little fist, she said: I just want to go back home.

I gave her what she said she needed to go back home on, guessing that tomorrow and the next day she'd still be there, and then I asked her: In your idea, why are some people rich and some people poor?

I think I am rich, she said dully.

She was already slipping into death, and perhaps had never been alive; by which I don't mean that she might not eke out another twenty or fifty semiconscious years. The last I saw of her, she was sitting sideways in her place just outside the railroad station entrance, clutching her white plastic bag of belongings beside her, not looking anybody in the face.

There was a little girl at the reading, with one or both of her parents. I don't know. She was wearing a puffy red jacket and a frilly red skirt over jeans lined in pink flannel and cuffed about an inch-and-a-half. While Vollman read, she lay under one of the CD stands and looked at the pictures in an oversized Winnie the Pooh book.

After reading, Vollman took quite a number of questions. A few that I remember...On whether writing the book was a way of dealing with seeing such horrible things: No, it was harder to write the book and is harder to read it. When actually there you're thinking about more practical things and have no time to focus on the sadness of it. In response to, "Is poverty inevitable or is it possible to 'make poverty history'": He thinks that poverty is inevitable because one type of poverty is relative poverty and people will only be unequal. Russian beggars he spoke to talked about how, under communism, everyone was poor. So perhaps you could eliminate 'poverty' by making everyone poor. (Doesn't seem like a good option to me.) When asked to explain the great range of his books: "There's just so much reality out there. I'm interested in everything."

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