A Review of Whores for GloriabyDecayed Angel©
William T. Vollman should be a familiar name to many of the readers and writers at Literotica, considering he wrote the introduction to Lit's recent published anthology of erotic short stories. Literotica also announced his winning of the National Book Award for Europe Central, his most recent novel. The fact that Vollman won this prestigious award should not have been a surprise to anyone, most readers of his work would agree it was about time he received the attention.
Vollman has been an extremely prolific writer, from the publication of his first novel You Bright and Risen Angels in 1987 to his Europe Central in 2005 he has published twenty books. This staggering rate of production is even more impressive considering the amount and type of research he will put into writing a book. In 1982 he saved up money and traveled to Afghanistan joining a group of mujahideen as they fought the Soviets. This trip became the basis of his book An Afghanistan Picture Show, or, How I Saved the World.
In the late 1980(')s he became interested, if not obsessed with the lives of prostitutes in the so-called "Tenderloin" district of San Francisco and spent considerable time getting to know the street people. Several of his books have been based upon this research including The Rainbow Stories a collection of stories published in 1989 and Whores for Gloria a novel, published in 1992.
In Whores for Gloria Vollman immediately sets the tone for the novel in his opening statement:
"We all know the story of the whore who, finding her China white to be less and less reliable a friend no matter how much of it she injected into her arm, recalled in desperation the phrase "shooting the shit", and so filled the needle with her own watery excrement and pumped it in, producing magnificent abscesses."
Jimmy, introduced to the reader in the second chapter, in a Vietnam War veteran surviving on the streets as he collects his monthly payment for war injuries. Jimmy walks the streets in search of Gloria, a woman that remains a mystery to everyone, including it seems Jimmy. In one passage he talks to her on a phone about their baby, but the phone is actually broken, later he refers to her as a childhood friend and at another time he mentions they were married.
In his search for Gloria, Jimmy hires prostitutes for occasional sex, but more often so he can learn their "stories." As Jimmy moves from prostitute to prostitute, these "stories" become part of Gloria's past as each woman, for a time, becomes Gloria. So as the reader learns more about Gloria, she takes on the appearance and history of a group of whores. Gloria will have the blue eyes of one, the hair of another, the breast and genitals of yet another. Her history becomes a mix of a number of the women Jimmy hires.
At several times during his "search," Jimmy appears to have found Gloria and is ready to get off the streets with her, only to be jolted back to reality when a wrong "memory" is exposed. He'll then flash back to the particular whore he has hired.
While Jimmy's search is the basic plot of the book, the real depth of the book are in the stories (some actually true, some fictional) that the prostitutes recount. Vollman, in his research, developed empathy for most of these women and this empathy is evident as he tells their stories. Jimmy reflects this empathy, as in one scene, Nicole spreads her legs for him, legs covered with boils and lesions: "Your pussy is just like a flower, Jimmy complimented her; all the same he did not want to get his face too close to it."
These are flawed people, graphically described, yet accepted as people, deserving of some respect, regardless of how fleeting. Jimmy continues his search among these people, and amid this almost surreal reality, Gloria remains aloof, perhaps just something created in Jimmy's mind, the reader is never sure.
Vollman's style here, with the mish mashed punctuation, short, often abrupt paragraphs and chapters mesh perfectly with the surroundings, as fragments of life flash past and then move on just as Jimmy moves on the streets. It is in the roughly crafted environment amid the decadent decline of life that Vollman creates true beauty. He draws the reader into the pain and misery of the characters and yet still lets them maintain a vision, just as Jimmy looks to Gloria.
Whores for Gloria is available new and used from Amazon as is many of Vollman's books. The edition I read also included a glossary and appendix with some interesting details on prostitution in the late 80s in San Francisco. I highly recommend this book.
Vollman, William T. "Across the Divide", The New Yorker, 05/15/2000 www.newyorker "dot" com/archive/content/?010924fr_archive05
"William T. Vollman", WWW.McSweeneys "dot" net
"William T. Vollman" WWW.Wikipedia "dot" org