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Posted: August 2, 2020

A compelling piece of work

Book Review

By Derryll White

Vollman, William T. (2008).  Riding Toward Everywhere.

“Never steal anything but a ride.”                  – Unnamed Hobo

“It is thus with man… as he becomes sociable and a slave, he grows weak, timid and servile… his effeminate way of life totally enervates his strength and courage.”

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1754)

The first thing that shocks and saddens me with this book is the reviews that pepper the frontispiece – brilliant and laudatory for a contemporary voice that is seldom heard in Canada. In fact so seldom heard that Heather Reisman’s Indigo Books, the largest book retailer in Canada, does not have ‘Riding Toward Everywhere’ even in their central warehouse.

Vollman’s voice is lyrical, surprising in the face of the whole story being about riding the rails, stolen rides to everywhere. He delights in the freedom, past destination or even any control of where he is going. He simply rides and ruminates on America – the state of the nation and the personal freedoms lost to ever-more constraining societal attitudes and petty laws.

Vollman catches the natural beauty seen through the passive boxcar door, sliding by and presenting itself to someone who need do nothing except look. The writer creates an arc of wonder and lust for experience way past reason or simple understanding. He is simply there because he has to be, and is writing expansively about the experience.

Bill Vollman writes magnificently of what many think – the closing of frontiers due to bureaucratic control and the desire of a few to control the many. It is a compelling piece of work, part poem, part scholarly work, all a grand sweeping novel. He left me exactly where I wanted to be, contemplating the wealth of those years (or days) I have remaining.


Excerpts from the novel:

PERSONAL GROWTH – As I get older, I find myself getting angrier and angrier.  Doubtless change itself, not to mention physical decline and inevitable petty tragedies of disappointed expectations, would have made for resentment in any event; but I used to be a passive schoolboy, my negative impulses turned obediently inward.  Now I gaze around this increasingly un-American America of mine, and I rage.

SELF – Who can understand me?  I ride freight trains in the belief that I can trust myself, that I deserve to be trusted even to be a reckless fool if circumstances so turn out – and after all, if I am dead as a result of my own folly, I am no worse off than if I died safely and soberly.

LAMENT – My darling America has become a humpyard where cars and citizens can be nudged down the hill onto various classification tracks.  I’ve got to get out of here.

”Breaking a law is approximately as weighty a matter as missing a train.”

— Lukács


Kerouac, Jack (2004) ed. By Douglas Brinkley.  Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954.  Viking press.

Kerouac, Jack(    ).  The Dharma Bums.

London, Jack (    ).  The Road.

Skipp, Francis E., ed. (1987).  The Completee Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe.  Scribners.

Uys, Errol Lincoln (2003).  Riding the Rails; Teenagers On the Move During the Great Depression.  Routledge

…… (1987).  The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The FInca Vigia Edition.  Scribners’ Sons.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org

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