We gave it a C+
Though The Atlas appears to be a collection of 53 short pieces — fiction, travelogue, and autobiographical stories — Vollmann calls this gargantuan work a ”piecemeal atlas of the world I think in.” He wants the reader to treat it as a ”pillow-book.skipping the tales you find tedious, dozing amidst my somniferous paragraphs..” In other words, it’s supposed to be boring; and it often is, though there are sudden pools of perceptive, beautiful prose that will take your breath away. Based on his recent, far-flung travels, the material is quintessential Vollmann, mostly about encounters with prostitutes in brothels from Berlin to Bangkok. The stories seem connected only by the characters’ relentless loneliness. Ultimately, Vollmann’s Atlas offers a world of infinite circumference, lacking a core whose magnetism might draw the reader in.