Jimmy is obsessed with Gloria, who seems to be an idealised woman (possibly a prostitute, or maybe not) who he may or may not have known in his past. He starts to build a composite picture of Gloria from stories, memories and individual character traits and physical attributes of the women he meets. Vollman has done his research, at the back of the book is a glossary of terms (necessary) and he interviewed many prostitutes in the Tenderloin area as part of his research. This is the first of a trilogy and it has been noted that Vollman does seem to focus on prostitution quite a lot. It is never really clear whether Gloria is real and in some ways Jimmy is also a composite of one of the denizens of the area.
Driving home from a movie last week with my seven year old daughter, I chose the way that took us up 6th Street, across Market and through the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin. At a stoplight my daughter pointed out the car window at a disheveled, drug-addled man stumbling through pedestrian traffic in bright, mid-afternoon sunshine and asked, "Daddy, how does a person get to be like that man?" After ten years of living in San Francisco, I realize that I inhabit a real-life version of China Miéville's The City & the City. Six years ago when my family moved to the place where I currently reside there was a white homeless man with a shopping cart in front of our house, standing at the stairs as if he was expecting our arrival. Vollmann doesn't write about the denizens of San Francisco's Tenderloin district, he channels them like a medium. He is clear, however, to let the reader know that whatever path brings a person to the Tenderloin of human existence - once you have crossed that Rubicon - you have entered the world where Gloria is the protagonist, and you are forever her whore.
Gloria, Gloria, Gloria Bill rang me and said do you want to come and meet Jimmy, so I said yes, Id heard so much about him from Bill, he was going to write a piece, an article or a story about him for some magazine, he was infatuated with some whore, an ex-girlfriend, Gloria, whod just up and disappeared six months ago, Bill didnt know whether she was dead or in prison or had gone back to her family to have a baby, Bill had never even met her or seen a photo, all he had to go on was a description from Jimmy, none of the other whores in the Loin remembered her, theyd all arrived since shed left, once Bill even speculated that she might never have existed, and Jimmy heard about it, and next time he saw him, he punched him in the side of the jaw and loosened a tooth, though theyre good friends now, well good enough to have a drink with and to introduce me to, though as the editor of the novel he was supposed to be writing (I didn't "officially" know about the article) I had to pay of course, not that Bill needed or wanted an editor, he just got me for free, and I had a modest expense account. We ran into Pearl in the lobby of Jimmys building, but she hadnt seen him yet, so we walked up three flights of stairs until we got to his floor and located room 19, the door was open and the light was on, so we walked in, when this beautiful tall amazonian woman with a great shock of long hair, says, what the fuck are you doing here, were looking for Jimmy, we said, well hes not here, do you know where he is then, no, she said, but if you see him first, tell him Im looking for him, and if hes with some whore, hed better watch his back. We went back to the Black Rose and sure enough, there was Jimmy, sitting at a table, half a Bud in his hand, but it wasnt his first of the day, he looked like hed been drinking all day or had started last night and hadnt stopped. He was talking to a big-breasted whore named Luna, who looked pretty good for her age, behind her sunglasses, we sat with them for five or six rounds, while Jimmys head set more and more into his folded arms on the table, all the time calling Luna Gloria, and insisting that she wear a wig hed brought along in a plastic shopping bag. To be honest, Bill and I totally forgot to mention the woman in his room, wed got to talking as soon as we arrived, then some other girls arrived and asked both of us if we wanted to go upstairs, we both said yes, I thought Bill was going to fuck his girl, the younger of the two, but he reckoned afterwards, all he did was talk to her with a recorder going the whole time.
Here we have a novel or novella about unhappy love and those who are bound in peculiarly painful kinds of loneliness.
A grungy but humane jumble of the erotic and the repugnant, this first of Vollmann's so-called "Prostitution Trilogy" offers enough textual richness to keep many well-meaning undergrads happy as they fumble overeagerly with queer, marxist, post-colonial and feminist theory.
Melissa took him around the corner for a minute and stood thinking and then led Jimmy to the elevator. -Close the door, said Jimmy, but Melissa wouldnt because she was afraid of him. You remind me of Gloria, said Jimmy. The only qualm I do have is the premise of Jimmy seeking Gloria, which seemed to be the catalyst for this documentary-like story. I would like to know more as to why Vollmann used this angle since I feel the story would have had a more powerful effect if Jimmy wasnt himself as run down as the whores depicted.
With the addition of a lock of whore's hair he turns these stories into his goddess, Gloria. Jimmy's imaginative work is Vollmann's own; from dirt and filth, art creates Gloria.
I mean since" "You stopped here witnessing human beings abandoning themselves, abandoning each other. But. But." "Yes your book you snuck in here," "But, I just finished it. I know how ridiculous this must seem to hold any writer I mean after what you accomplished, what you wrote, sir." "Please call me Virgil." "Yes. Of course. Written by a Mister Vollmann?" "You heard of him." "Not in my time but in yours." "Any chance of " "Of a what?" "An autograph?" "I don't think so. Using prostitutes and their customers, johns, their merciless obsessions, exploits, to convey the despair of isolation nearing complete in its fold. Certainly there will be those who consider it disgusting, a ploy for the author to confess his own obsessions mixing Mister Vollmann up with his narrator. In our age, though ancient as you call it, we had other ways of reading and discussing books. I mean Virgil. We discuss your Mister Vollmann frequently.
Jimmy's Tricky Tenderloin or Flatbacked in the Financial District "...and she fixed her huge pupils on him she was not even thinking of the money for the moment but the thrill of making him see her as she wanted to be for all those lonely men whose greed of lust was nothing but an aching prayer for beauty..." -- William T Vollmann, Whores for Gloria Not an easy read. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my experience with this funky little novel is similar to my entire experience with Vollmann. This isn't a novel for the many unwashed, but for those chosen few who appreciate Vollmann's depth and the sad honesty of curiosity about the Earths's many far corners and the unnoticed low cracks of the world.
My first Vollmann (in at the shallow end): Whores for Gloria is the harrowing, episodic story of an alcoholic, mentally disturbed veteran of the Vietnam War, Jimmy, who is trying to fabricate a love he calls Gloria from the clothes, hair, appearances and (the more pleasant, if necessarily quite distant) memories of the most desperate, diseased, sliding-along-the-filthy-bottom-of-the-barrel prostitutes in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Then Jimmy transforms the stories and mementos, images and scents into Gloria. At the end of this final transformation Jimmy "realizes" that what he needs in order to bring Gloria back to him and to keep her at his side are memories of pain and torture.