cover image Butterfly Stories

Butterfly Stories

William T. Vollmann / Author Grove Press $21 (279p) ISBN 978-0

The prolific Vollmann weighs in with at least his third hyper-realized meditation on female prostitution. But whereas Whores for Gloria had an imaginative conceit worthy of Borges and Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs teetered provocatively between a Baedeker and a Book of the Dead, his latest effort falls a bit flat. The ``Butterfly Boy'' grows up as a nerdish American kid who is routinely abused by bullies at school. His adolescent trials, configured against a backdrop of American atrocities in Vietnam, are relieved only by the affections of a particularly plucky girl who then moves away. This sets the stage for the protagonist's adult explorations of love and violence in the Far East, where, as ``the journalist,'' he pals with ``the photographer,'' and together they insist on developing relationships with a series of prostitutes. As always, Vollmann's style--gritty detail stirred with hallucinated fancy--perfectly serves his investigation of the profane, which in this case includes the vile horrors exacted by the Khmer Rouge. However, the heart of this darkness is not convincingly evoked, and readers may begin to wonder if the exoticism of the Orient and its women is not just a handy occasion for Vollmann to act out a forbidden fantasy. (Nov.)