Boisterous as ever, Vollmann continues to revel in quixotic moments of human experience similar to those in his other tales (Fathers and Crows, etc.), yet this collection is far less successful in providing a solid basis from which his anarchic vision can flourish. With San Francisco as a point of departure and the crisis of parting from it as a catalyst for reflection, Vollmann's narrator ponders a mÇlange of colorful but troubled acquaintances, tracing their individual journeys to dissolution and despair, as well as his own tortured experience. Tragic figures all, some of them manage at least to eke out a marginal existence, while others, like Elaine Suicide, are dead from the outset; the somber saga of her affair with handcuff-haunted Abraham in all its sadomasochistic splendor is the centerpiece here. From a father obsessed with dogtags stripped from a German soldier he'd killed in the closing moments of WW II, Abraham inherits a fetishism that becomes fully formed in his relationship with Elaine, as the two feed each other's fantasies in Gun City, U.S.A. Voyeurs and sorry dreamers of all kinds occupy other pieces--from hapless Ken, whose passion for Asian women prompts a string of disappointing liaisons, to failed operative Nicholas, whose enthusiasm for covert life in Latin America makes him unable to abandon it after his removal from US government service. Stitched between these tales are short, savage epitaphs for a range of dead heroes and objects, including a fierce jaguar hunted down in the jungle of Belize and, finally, the book itself. Energetic and witty if unfocused--but, still, this shows the prodigious talent that has been better realized in earlier work.