He's a madly prolific California author who writes dense, yet very personal and moving accounts of his time usually with prostitutes, drug dealers and various down-on-their-luck people all over the world. The Atlas is structured like a Pallindrome, in that the first story reflects a theme or a location of the last story, and so forth, while the middle story, 'The Atlas', brings together everything in a kaleidoscope of memory and experience while on a train in Canada. His stories are incredibly sincere, yet often astoundingly rendered (hence the Pynchon comparison), with the whole thing often being a thing of tremendous scope (i.e. the seven novel cycle you mention but which I haven't read, or the pallindrome, or his 2,000 word treatise on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down). The titles of his stories are things like The Best Way To Smoke Crack, and The Best Way To Shoot H. Those particular ones are about drug-addicted hookers in San Francisco. He writes a lot about hookers from an incredibly humane perspective, having actually slept with a lot of them and done drugs with them, although I'm never quite sure if he's doing it mostly to write about (which I sometimes suspect) or if he'd do it anyway, even if he wasn't gonna write about them. He also paints watercolours of them apparently, cause that way he gets to ask them questions without them getting suspicious, although I have no idea if these are any good.
He's travelled all over the world and his journeys are what a lot of his writing is about. I'd recommend The Atlas to anyone. But if you want a flavour of all his work, I'd suggest the Vollmann Reader which my friend has, and is an anthology comprising snippets of a lot of stuff. Probably best to get that cause there's no way you'll get through close to all he's written.
Another great story about Vollmann is about how he wrote his first book, Afghanistan Picture Show. He saved up his money and went off fighting with the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in the eightes while still in his early to mid twenties. The guy is one of my heroes.
He's also a hilariously ungainly sight, which makes me love him even more. A man who looks like he must really have something to be able to sleep with so many women. Hence probably why he pays for it.
Thanks for taking the time to write that. Sounds very interesting! I ordered The Atlas from Amazon forgetting my card has been cancelled, so will get that when I get a new one from the bank in a fortnight...
Sounds right up my street so thought i'd go straight in with the Atlas rather than the reader one.