An American writer, he is best known for his 1992 novel, Ishmael, which deconstructs the belief that humans represent the pinnacle of evolution. His other works include The Story of B (1996) and After Dachau (2001).
He briefly wanted to become a Trappist monk. After abandoning this dream, he pursued a career in publishing.
He was awarded the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award in 1991.
He grew up in Nebraska. He was married three times, and he settled in Texas with Rennie Quinn, his third wife.
His novel Ishmael inspired the Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder song, "Do the Evolution."