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. The reader is pulled along in this unspeakably sad quest from one human wreck to the next, each worst than the last. What makes this horror show actually horrible is that Vollmann shows us the dying spark of humanity in each. Then Jimmy transforms the stories and mementos, images and scents into Gloria. After each encounter Gloria becomes more solid, more complete to Jimmy. For no apparent reason (except, of course, for the purposes of the story), there is a setback, and Gloria makes herself scarce. Jimmy then finds a level below the bottom of the barrel, drinks even more, loses his already tentative hold on reality, and finds himself beaten, stabbed and robbed in the street. 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. (!) Fortunately, the book does not dwell long on this and ends quickly with an unconvincing, but short epilogue. I found the story to be compelling up until this final "realization", where Vollmann lost me in the last 10 pages. I couldn't see this as anything more than a "shocking" way to end the tale, in other words, just a literary device. But it is a relatively early work (1991) and is an unusually short piece for Vollmann. So it is likely to be not at all representative of Vollmann in his encyclopedic prime. There are some further, though less significant false notes: on occasion it seemed to me that Vollmann crossed the line into sentimentality; and this text is no place for gestures to the literati like "when the names of streets are like Nabokov's wearisome cleverness" (Bill, that is an example of wearisome cleverness!). All in all, I am impressed with his ability to unblinkingly examine the most miserable of lives and to fully empathize with the human beings whose doom it is to live them. From what little I know about Vollmann's work at this point, precisely this ability breathes life into most of his literary efforts. And I am impressed with the absence of judgment and bitterness in this book. This absence is, I believe, the mark of a man who is trying to understand the world around him instead of projecting himself into that world. A la prochaine , Bill!