Whores for Gloria by William T. Vollmann

Whores for GloriaWhores for Gloria is about Jimmy, an ex-soldier who cashes in his SSI checks only to spend them – after paying his rent at the hotel – on whores. Vollmann weaves a captivating and most disturbing tale that captures the grittiness and vulgarity of street prostitution, and the frightening and depressing reality around it.

Jimmy is on the lookout for Gloria, who appears to be a figment of his imagination, and it’s never clear if Jimmy is high, psychotic, mentally handicapped or whatever, but this doesn’t matter because Vollmann shifts the focus from Jimmy to Jimmy’s desire for Gloria, and how the prostitutes fill that void in strange and unusual ways.

If literature is indeed the search for truth, or, as I like to think of it, a creative documentation of the truth, then Vollmann has done street prostitution literary justice. While some scenes and the syntax did occasionally turn my stomach, I’m not naïve enough to deny the ugliness of reality depicted in this novella. Vollmann’s writing is gritty, depicting the essence of the story through intricate scenes where monologue, dialogue, and atmosphere demand the reader’s attention.

Melissa held the grating open for him. The lobby was old-style marble, but as soon as they went upstairs everything was dark and shabby and stinking. Melissa took him around the corner for a minute and stood thinking and then led Jimmy to the elevator. Jimmy’s dick was hard. They went down together in the little steel cage, neither saying a thing because they both had exactly what they wanted, and then the cage stopped and they were in the basement. Melissa led him into the laundry room. -Close the door, said Jimmy, but Melissa wouldn’t because she was afraid of him.

You remind me of Gloria, said Jimmy. -Who’s Gloria? said Melissa. -Oh she used to live here, Jimmy lied; she moved out about three weeks ago. Have you seen her? -No, Melissa said. I’ve never seen her.

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 wasn’t himself as run down as the whores depicted. In any event, it’s a strong story with some disturbing scenes and characters.

Vollmann is definitely a writer with a distinctive, edgy style who does not shy away from grim subjects. Whores for Gloria is the first part of the Prostitution Trilogy, not a trilogy per se in terms of connectedness but a trilogy in terms of theme only.

Samir Rawas Sarayji


2 thoughts on “Whores for Gloria by William T. Vollmann

  1. I have this one on my shelf but haven’t been able to bring myself to read it. Vollmann is the most famous unknown writer in the U.S., I think. When I took a literature test to become a bookseller for an independent bookstore in San Francisco, one of the questions was: “Where would you shelf books by William T. Vollmann?” I hadn’t a clue. Fast forward 15 years, and I now know the answer well. Perhaps one day I will be courageous enough to read this book.

    1. I like that: the most famous unknown writer… it has a prestigious ring to it. I can’t wait to dig into is oeuvre but sadly, the library here in the Netherlands has nothing of his and the books have a hefty price tag when purchasing… I’m thinking: long-term.

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