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Butterfly Stories: A Novel Paperback – August 15, 1994


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (August 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802134009
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802134004
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This is not a collection, as the title suggests, but a novel. The main character, known as "the butterfly boy" in grade school but now simply called "the journalist," travels to Southeast Asia to investigate the prostitution problem, accompanied by a photographer. The latter proves to be an impeccable sex tourist, but the journalist is inept. He forgets to use a condom the very first night and suffers from an ever-worsening barrage of fevers and infections thereafter. Then he falls in love with one of the prostitutes and decides to marry. Typically, Vollmann is more interested in the sordid aspects of his tale than in its erotic potential. The tone is sober, almost scholarly, complete with bibliographical notes on source material ranging from Tacitus to Nazi aviator Hanna Reitsch's memoirs. Shorter and more focused than the "Seven Dreams" sequence of novels, this title presents Vollmann's trademark obsessions in a new light. For larger fiction collections.
- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 1997
Format: Paperback
Not for those with faint hearts or correct politics, William Vollman's "Butterfly Stories" is a surgically accurate portrayal of a man's search for the one person who can capture his heart for keeps, as this will prove that he actually has one. A cautionary tale about the dangers of chasing experience and affection with a demagnetized moral compass, the novel describes one character's slide from a lonely, girl-crazy and ill-adjusted childhood (as the Butterfly Boy) to a lonelier and girl-crazier adulthood (as the journalist) in which he is gainfully if dubiously employed but has little else going for him, it seems.

Except that he feels, and he needs. Driven solely by emotion, this boy-cum-journalist spans several continents, a failed marriage, the BBC, STDs, and a rogue's gallery of prostitutes, drug addicts and hotel clerks on his way to the killing fields of Cambodia to find his true love. Old-fashioned, boy-meets-girl story? Yes, of a sort. Hackneyed? Hardly. Through Vollman's raw (some might say base) observations, we see the twinned horror and joy the journalist finds in love and power and the modern consequences of a lack of restraint in both areas. The view is a dim one, but worth a good look.

Possessing a painfully acute self-knowledge, Vollman's journalist does not fall prey to the common afflictions of the rest of us at the end of the milennium. He is not unsure of his own desires, or his place in the world, or the worth of a soul defined by advertising slogans. But while he knows exactly what he wants, he is strangely bereft of the will to survive. Ironically, it is this pervading sense of helplessness that makes the book a compelling read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Colt on August 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
'Butterfly Stories' is a unique literary endeavor by one of the most underrated writers of our times, William T Vollman. Many people may have moral issues with this book since the protagonist'and from what I understand, Vollman himself'is an enthusiastic whore chaser. But moral issues aside, one can't ignore the quality of Vollman's prose, the gripping honesty and lyricism of his story, and the fact that his is a novel of ideas.
The story begins with a young boy who calls himself the butterfly boy, living an odd and tormented life in the American suburbs. Sensitive and appreciative of women at a very early age, the butterfly boy is scorned and rejected by his peers. His childhood is characterized on the one hand by the brutal treatment he receives from the school bully, and on the other hand by his remote sense of beauty. One morning the butterfly boy observes a beautiful butterfly whose image remains with him for the rest of his life. It is presumably for this reason that he calls himself the butterfly boy. When he reaches adulthood, each successive phase of the butterfly boy's life is characterized by a new appellation. For example, he becomes the boy who wanted to be a journalist, the journalist, and finally the husband. As the boy who wanted to be a journalist, the narrator travels through Southern Europe with an odd group of people and no prospect of getting laid. As the journalist, he travels with a photographer through Thailand and Cambodia pursuing prostitutes with a sportsman's gusto.
The journalist and the photographer plug their pray with an odd code of bravado that prohibits the use of condoms and practically embraces its suicidal consequences. Shortly before returning to America, the journalist falls in love with a beautiful Cambodian prostitute.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
Although I must admit that I consider this one of Vollmann's "lesser" works, I can't dub anything he writes bad, for Vollmann at his worst still gives would-be--and most popular--novelists a seminar in writing: pages lush with imagery; his masterful prose; ingenuity in plot construction without resorting to the convoluted seamlessness of most postmodern novelists. It's just that he seems somewhat rushed in his delivery, that occasionally his ingenius metaphors are replaced with what appears to be crassness if only for the sake of being crass. (And there isn't anything wrong with this; I guess I just expect something more from Vollmann.) But then again, the life of the Butterfly Boy, the protagonist, is a vulgar and sick and sad life. The novel--yes, Butterfly Stories is a novel--is an overview of the Butterfly Boy's life, from early childhood disappointments to crossing Europe by train with an eccentric cast of characters to whoremonging in Thailand on a quest for true love, a quest that culminates in his contracting AIDs. Although Vollmann may not have reached the standard to which I am used to reading, this novel refuses to be shelved, drawing the reader in to its lonliness and desperation
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mark DeRespinis on July 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
William Vollman has to be read, and read more. The question is more which Vollman to read than whether to read Vollman at all. His works can be loosely divided into the historical (the Seven Dreams series and the recent philosophical work in violence, Rising Up and Rising Down) and the journalistic fiction (including Butterfly Stories and Atlas and Whores for Gloria). But the work of cultural archaeology that Vollman is performing can be located in all his works. He is bringing that which has been buried by long years of cultural blindness and prejudice into the light. With great patience we will learn to think "person" when we hear "prostitute", instead of just shaking our heads at what we know only as some abstract category of social depravity - a prejudice that many might protest but secretly be a party to (myself reluctantly included).

In the introduction, honest Vollman makes his plea for suspension of judgment on his blatantly controversial cast of characters:

"In case any of you readers happens to be a member of the Public, that mysterious organization that rules the world through shadow-terrors, I beg you not to pull censorious strings merely because this book, like one or two others of mine, is partly about the most honest form of love called prostitution - a subject which the righteous might think exhausted with a single thought - or, better yet, no thought at all - but the truth is that there are at least thirteen times as many different sorts of whores as there are members of the Public (and I think you know what I mean by members). Shall we pause to admire them all...?
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