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On this classic framework William Vollmann has hung a gargantuan novel, by turns satiric, philosophical, lyrical, and baroque. It is a song of San Francisco. Rarely has a city been explored so tenderly and ruthlessly, from the mansions of Pacific Heights to the flophouses of the Tenderloin. In one of his many loving set pieces, Vollmann sends Henry Tyler through the streets surrounding Union Square, where a Peruvian quartet is playing to some weary tourist ladies.
Their lives were passing, vacations trickling through the hourglass; moment by moment this warmish blue San Francisco day was being wasted. They sat beneath lush palm-trees, and distantly a trolley-car sounded its bell as he heard the ladies talking about grilled-cheese sandwiches; then he was past them and could not hear anymore.Tyler spots a gray-haired man digging in a garbage can. Near him, "reflected palm-tendrils swerved and curved in the windows of Macy's, and skyscrapers' terraces swelled and bowed there as if in the throes of an immense explosion. The Peruvians' music, gentle and strangely liquid, seemed the appropriate solvent for this image of dissolution."
When Irene--pregnant and neglected--kills herself, John disappears into his work while Henry, in a quest that parallels the course of his grief, devotes himself to the Queen of the Whores, a dark saint who protects the lowest of the low. It makes all the difference that our Virgil for this journey to the underworld is this good-natured and observant man, whose physical appetites never overwhelm his sympathy for the addicted and exploited. Henry remains firmly on the side of good, even when the boundaries blur before his eyes. At times, the author invites identification with his big-hearted hero, as when he veers into an agitated, first-person essay on the judicial evil of bail. Beat-flavored, with touches of Rabelais, Céline, and, oddly, T.S. Eliot, The Royal Family is Vollmann's most ambitious work to date, and a noisy, compelling world in itself. --Regina Marler
almost thru here (w/ the book). the kind of novel you dream abt - i have abt 50 pages left and i dream of longer, extended endings carrying the thing past where vollmann leaves it. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Richard W. Martin
After I reviewed the gloomy obsessions of love or lust in the companion piece for this novel, in the briefer "Whores for Gloria" set in the Tenderloin and "The... Read morePublished 4 months ago by John L Murphy
A Vollmann that had slipped under my radar until recently. Don't miss any of his work, the guy's a master.Published 11 months ago by W. Pryor
We left the book in San Francisco in the hotel room. Potentially the next visitors
would be interested in this local history. Read more
the city is san francisco. henry tyler is one more down on his luck detective. maybe his luck is changing when he gets a job working for jonas brady. Read morePublished on September 21, 2009 by Case Quarter
Even as an avid reader, I was a little intimidated by the sheer heft of this book, but I found myself devouring it as fast as I would a 150-page novella! Read morePublished on July 25, 2008 by trashcanpoet
I met Bill Vollmann in 1990. I had read Rainbow Stories and read a few stories of his in Conjunctions. Read morePublished on April 19, 2004 by alexander laurence
The Royal Family is Vollmann's sprawling, epic examination of life on the streets and the depths that it can drive people to. Read morePublished on April 16, 2004 by Damian Kelleher
This book may well sicken and horrify you -- in fact if it doesn't you might be dangerously stoic, but the unforgivingly visceral assault of Vollmann's juicy chewy prose is... Read morePublished on October 25, 2002 by Penner