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The Royal Family Paperback – August 1, 2001
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Afterwards he answered all of our questions (Next book in the 7 Dreams is done; it will be out next year and is about Pocohantas. He has finished a 4000 page (!) non-fiction book on the justification of violence. and get this - his favorite book of recent times is called A Tomb for Boris Davidovich by Danilo Kis. The book is out of print, but if you have a good used store (or just a good store) you may find it. I'm fascinated by what Vollmann thinks is really good writing: He also mentioned the Japanese writers Mishima and Kawabata, and in Eastern European authors the 20th c.
What else? I think he also said he was working on a book about the small countries of Eastern Europe in and after World War II. It was great to meet him after the questions. He was genuinely interested in what other people were reading and seemed like the kind of guy I'd love to hang out with for a while and have a few drinks in a crummy bar while arguing about good authors. His favorite books of his own are The Rifles and Butterfly Stories. The underage prostitute he rescued in Asia several years ago while writing for SPIN is married and doing fine (she is now 16 or 17?)
Royal Family; Very large book. After 350 pages I'm losing my breath and it is not yet half over. There are some very fine characters who walk very fine lines; chief among them is Dan Smooth; a pedophile who works for the feds.Read more ›
In spite of this nifty, almost melodramatic hook, Vollmann has something else in mind instead of yet another piece of detective fiction. In addition to Hammett, influences extend to other San Francisco-area writers, first to the gritty realism of Frank Norris (as Tyler, like Vandover and McTeague before him, plunges into the underworld, taking most readers where they've never dreamed of going) and then to the desolate vitalism of John Steinbeck (when Tyler flees the Bay Area and mingles with the train-hopping hobos of the Central Valley and beyond). Along the way, the prose invites comparisons to Hubert Selby, John Rechy, and--yes--Thomas Pynchon. And I'm not even sure to which American literary tradition one might assign the book's vaguely supernatural elements.
While Vollmann has a dedicated "cult" following (and, although this is my first sampling, I'm nearly ready to add my name to the registry), there are two things that will probably keep his novels from garnering the wider audience they deserve. The first is their length--and this is especially true with "The Royal Family.Read more ›
But should you succeed in getting it all into the bloodstream...boy. Hold on tight and don't bother screaming.
Knowledge can not be differentiated into GOOD and BAD. Vollmann's wisdom is derived from his ability to learn about EVERYTHING, and illustrated by his ability to cultivate beauty from horror in prose so rich and engaging and smothering one could drown in his words while madly laughing. I don't need to offer yet another description of what this book is about, as everyone knows it's about suicide on many levels, and drugs and whores and hopeless love with all its poisoned teeth. And if you can take it, you will be a wiser person for it. Just don't plan on being any happier.
Henry Tyler is a private eye hired to find the Queen of the Whores, an almost mythical wanderer of the streets that the more law-abiding portion of San Fransisco consider a legend, if they even know of her existence at all. Through a series of events involving a suicide and many, many trips to various prostitutes, Henry discovers the Queen and is brought into her underground world of drugs and prostitution. The 'Inner Court' of the Queen is the focus of much of the book, we see the world through the eyes of Tyler as he descends further and further into the murky depths of the black underbelly of civilised society.
The characters are surprisingly sympathetic. 200 pages into the book, I was in love with all of the 'inner court' prostitutes, if only because they are shown with such an unflinching sense of humanity that it is impossible not too. Sure, these women sell their bodies for money - and, in plumbing the depths of prostitution, we understand just how much the word 'sell' is apt for what they do - but they still have their dreams and fears, hopes for the futures and regrets of the past. Many are hopeless, considering the physical gifts they have to offer as their only positive aspects, while others have wearily resigned themselves to a life they hate because it is all they know. Above them all stands the Queen, she is their protector, their nurturer, their mother.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 22 months 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 on July 14, 2014 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 on December 8, 2013 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
Where to begin with this post-modern bible of Canaan? What a beautifully ugly opera of San Francisco's Tenderloin; paean to society's wretched refuse! Read morePublished on March 12, 2006 by Christopher Nelson
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
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