The Royal Family
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The Royal Family

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  385 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Since the publication of his first book in 1987, William T. Vollmann has established himself as one of the most fascinating and unconventional literary figures on the scene today. Named one of the twenty best writers under forty by the New Yorker in 1999, Vollmann received the best reviews of his career for The Royal Family, a searing fictional trip through a San Francisco...more
Paperback, 800 pages
Published August 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published 2000)
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The Ice-Shirt by William T. VollmannThe Royal Family by William T. VollmannYou Bright and Risen Angels by William T. VollmannThe Rifles by William T. VollmannFathers and Crows by William T. Vollmann
William T Vollmann
2nd out of 26 books — 15 voters
All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland& Sons by David GilbertMusic for Torching by A.M. HomesA Plague of Wolves and Women by Riley Michael ParkerThe Ice Storm by Rick Moody
Your Family's Not That Fucked Up
8th out of 10 books — 1 voter

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True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Before my change in career paths became a creature of definite construction, one of my required classes for graduation was 183EW, Engineering Ethics, one of a few choices in a category that every engineer was required to take part in at some point in their college career. Mad scientists and human experim...more
Some books are very obviously flawed, contrived in ways which slow down the reader's progress and heavily tax his/her ability to dredge up empathy over the headache-inducing frenzy of loaded work-weeks. And yet these narratives are so divine in their earnestness, so far-reaching in their scope, that you are filled with this overwhelming, earth-shattering zeal to shower them with a holy love and not let even a drop of your skepticism dilute your admiration for the writer's boldness. Your cowardic...more
Stephen P
The book is riveting. At times I wished I could leave its world. I was unable, a captive in the dense bleak circularity of emptiness seeking a fullness always out of reach. Yet, when I neared the end I grew sad of ever leaving these haunted beings trying to survive within the web of fear. The narrator is a private detective hired to find the Queen of Whores. He enters the Tenderloin riddled with prostitution and drug addicts. At first they seem to fit easily within these labels. Our detective is...more
I had done some selective rereading (OK, pretty much the whole thing) over the past few days, and I think I'm ready to offer a more substantive review, in comparison to the exuberant gushing I wrote last year (see below). Truth be told, I'm rather embarrassed about it, but I'll leave it up anyway.

So - I will ask the big question. Why would anyone really read a 774 page book about whores doing fucked-up things? Even if it is written by a Famous Cult Author or has a Good Prose Style. The subject m...more
Dec 02, 2013 Mala rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ian Graye
Recommended to Mala by: Ali
"And yet Tyler said to himself: Someday I want to show backbone. I want to do something daring, good and important, even if it destroys me. —And he waited to be called to that worthwhile thing."

The Royal Family is an achingly sad tale of love & loss,of Henry Tyler's search for meaning in life. Its world,peopled by whores, addicts, pimps, panhandlers, tramps, hobos, & the homeless, is Vollmann's tribute to the voiceless,the dregs of society, for Tyler's story is inextricably mixed with th...more
This is a piece of grade A shite. I am ditching after 300 pages (although I have skimmed the rest for good measure). Not because I have anything against whores, retarded sex or urinating in someone’s mouth, but because I have a whole lot of something against laborious prose and two dimensional characters and frankly, utter lack of grit, rawness, or ‘essence’. The 300 pages I worked through read like a mobius strip of endless ‘encounters’ in monotone and black and white (but not noir!). Look, I d...more

This book was a huge disappointment to me.

I read the early whore stories and Rainbow Stories and didn't much like them. They seemed purile and immature. Well -- ok.... Vollman, who's unquestionably a genius of sorts, was only about 30 or so when he wrote these.

Turning to this - after the first 150 pages, I was prepared to see this as the 'great american novel of his generation' -- my thought was that Vollman at 32 *wanted* to be a writer; but that Vollman at 42 WAS a writer. The opening of this...more
Louis-Jean Levasseur
This detective novel set in San Francisco at the end of the last century provides a glimpse of the fear and madness the early christians must have lived from the bottom of their underground chapels. The Royal Family could be the moral code of whoever lives outside morality. And, in that regard, it’s an heterodox christian novel, close to the sadian moral that teaches devotion in damnation. The epigraphs, often taken from the apocryphal gospels, settles a subversive and non-canonical ethics by wh...more
J Frederick
The Royal Family is often daring, brave, earnest, and sad. Vollmann's immersive research into the life of street prostitutes, johns, hobos, bail bondsmen, etc. allows him to write compassionately about The Preterite, figures haunting the filthy alleys, clinics, jails, warehouses, and hourly hotels of The Tenderloin in San Francisco, eventually expanding his radius into hobo and train jumping culture for the last tenth of the novel. If the stronger stories contained in the novel were presented as...more
David Contreras
The Royal Family is so richly enigmatic, one thinks they're unraveling the mysteries of the universe when they read it. This is a book of immense sadness, where loneliness knows no bounds. One can imagine its author, possibly the greatest writer alive, William T. Vollmann, sitting at his desk skimming over his first draft of The Royal Family and then saying to himself with a mischievous grin, "Okay, now how do I make this even sadder?"

For one, what's sadder than the tale of Cain? And because Vol...more
Sometimes I hate William T. Vollmann. I have been reading at least one of his books since I first picked up Europe Central last October on a chance find at my local second hand bookstore, and I now find it hard to read anyone else. I just find him and his books so very interesting, and in this world, that means more to me than any form of perfection.

The first line of this book could be read as a warning: “The blonde on the bed said: I charge the same for spectators as for participants, ‘cause t...more
I finished the book last Sunday. It is substantial and I'm not sure how to talk about it without either narrowing its scope and scale or overreaching. At its end I found myself asking this question:

How can a man who is cursed, a Canaanite, find salvation without losing himself? Does true salvation demand that he turn his back on everything that ever gave him pleasure and meaning just so he can find peace? What kind of saviour or god would demand this?

Many think that to understand life, to be in...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
In lieu of my having written a Review of any sort please see Friend Louis-Jean's beautiful statement of "what this book is about," this beautifully sad novel:
Man, Vollman's a challenge. Logorrheic, obsessive, exasperating, sometimes appalling, frequently depressing, Vollman soldiers through a world that's mostly brutal and ugly. He's a writer I don't ever recommend to anyone.

Still, I'll admit I'm hooked. I wouldn't want to mainline him -- that'd be almost masochistic -- but he, better than most, recharges my fiction-reading batteries. When novels start to feel tepid and predictable, and boy do I hate when I see a book's ending coming a mile away, Vol...more
Challenging. And when you rise to the task, the book will crush your heart and mock your morals.

I picked up my copy in the Austin St. Vincent DePaul thrift store and the woman behind the counter blushed when she saw the multiple sets of breasts on the cover. I thought it was a sort of statue of David style image. How gratuitous could it be? Well, very.

"once while scuba diving he discovered within inches of him an anemone wriggling its tendrils, like any rotten apple upon whose top live and labor...more
Joseph Nicolello
As mentioned in my initium-dream mistrial, when Vollmann clicks it is a religious experience. Read the details elsewhere. I just tell you this, out of strained charity, dear reader: In terms of literature, I believe this book is the greatest by a living writer (I do seriously urge you to send me any recs to the contrary) and that Chris Hedges's Death of the Liberal Class is the best non-fiction work by a breathing writer. To even read the funereal fly is to comprehend, with the immediacy of a sw...more
James Debruicker
This is kind of... I don't know. Almost an Illuminatus! vibe. But it's VERY decadent and VERY druggy and VERY down. But the writing is painfully beautiful.

And there's a delightful little essay about the bail system smack dab in the middle of the book.

No, I'm not kidding.
It is brilliant, it is brainless, it is austere, it is authorially intrusive, it is biblical, it is pagan, it is spiritual, it is atheistic, it is reverential, it is nihilistic, it is sympathetic, it is misanthropic, it is verisimilitudinous, it is fantastical, it is economical, it is excessive, it is polyphonous, it is monophonic, it is surreal, it is quotidian, it is trenchant, it is indulgent, it is confident, it is awkward, it is sui generis, it is mundane, it is repetitive, it is unpredicta...more
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Josiah Miller
When reading Vollmann, I am reminded of the great social writings of Jack London. I haven't read anybody that lives and feels what they write about more than London and now Vollmann. Although this book is at times wordy, it is a great venture into the writing of Vollmann. There are so many despicable characters, yet each one shows fragments of themselves that makes you understand why someone would love them and trust them. If at the beginning of the novel, I felt like I was reading a modern day...more
God's this is a Beautiful Beast of a Book! It's been enought time since I've read it that I can't do a detailed review. All the same, I remember having my breath taken away by it. I need to re read this.

William T Vollman scares me witless. He seems to be infinitely brilliant. He has at least two styles of books.

One, is this immense history of North America that he is publishing in 7 volumes with no attempt at Chronological Order. (Ice Shirt, The Rifles, Fathers and Crows, and Arghall)

The other...more
Heather Anderson
Horrible, terrible, awful

Kept reading looking for any redeeming qualities - never found any
Nathan Hauenstein
At the end of the book Vollmann thanks his publisher for not allowing him to cut the book down by a third (against his better judgment). This is true, this was not an easy novel to get through. Much of it is redundant: drug addicted prostitutes, drug (or lost love) addicted Tyler. It was fairly difficult and upsetting most of the time, but Vollmann knows this game very well and gives small gifts of of hope or humor to keep you going, or a few refreshing moments that step outside the text. Artful...more
Extremely disturbing. Some parts are written better than others, but no matter what judgement I feel I should pass on this text, I cannot but admit that this book has really stuck with me over the years.

Certain scenes and phrases never seem to leave me: "girls like black rubber butterflies in their raincoats" is the only one that I can paraphrase here and still keep it PG, but there are many more, I assure you.

I want to read more Vollmann but haven't happened to stumble upon any in several yea...more
Truly epic in a nonhyperbolic sense. Alternately heartwrenching, hard-boiled, nauseating and poetic. Vollman provides brutal glimpses into the lives of addicts, capitalists, prostitutes and the bottom-feeders of the criminal justice system while exploring the parallels between the obsessions of religion, addiction, selfish love and untethered ambition. There may be no greater living writer than Vollman, a claim which may have even been true while David Foster Wallace and Norman Mailer were still...more
Kye Alfred Hillig
This illustration of the lifestyle of prostitution mirrors that of a family in its support systems. Vollmann shows how sorrow can lead people into ugly places, but ultimately, if your strong enough, can lead you to internal realizations of higher value than you would have experienced otherwise. Brilliantly written. Perhaps his best work that I've read. Wish I had more hours in a day to read his work. It is true, gritty and brilliant. Why aren't there more Vollmanns?
This book is epic and gripping. It disturbs and challenges. Some people saw it as a book about prostitutes and crack users, which it is. It is also a book about the humanity of the characters in all their beauty and ugliness. This is a work of genius and stunning compassion. Vollmann's treatment of his characters is reverent and rich. The story is neither simple nor reductive and takes every last page to be told -- or at least mostly told.
Katie K
May 16, 2008 Katie K rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: weirdos and freaks
wow, this is quite an undertaking but so far worth the price of admission. Vollman is a local San Francisco author that sets his stories in a surreal, ephemeral landscape full of sad, tragic, and beautiful degenerates....junkies, hookers, pimps, street prophets, dead sister in laws and a private detective all swirling around in the cesspool of the Tenderloin.
Doug Hart
Bears comparison to The Recognitions and Infinite Jest in scope and intelligence, yet in many ways remains its own unruly animal. Packed with indelible characters, diamond cut descriptions, and torrents of Gaddislike dialogue, Vollmann makes up in brilliance what he lacks in control. A great book.
Quiet an extraordinary book. Really gritty subject matter - San Francisco street life, prostitutes, drugs, sex. But an amazing eye for peoples' hopes and fears come through. By halfway through the book had really grabbed me, and I felt compelled to make it through to the end (voyeurism?).
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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

More about William T. Vollmann...
Europe Central The Rainbow Stories Whores for Gloria Poor People The Ice-Shirt

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“This is the heart of it, the scared woman who does not want to go alone to the man any longer, because when she does, when she takes of her baggy dress, displaying to him rancid breasts each almost as big as his own head, or no breasts, or mammectomized scar tissues taped over with old tennis balls to give her the right curves; when, vending her flesh, she stands or squats waiting, congealing the air firstly with her greasy cheesey stench of unwashed feet confined in week-old socks, secondly with her perfume of leotards and panties also a week old, crusted with semen and urine, brown-greased with the filth of alleys; thirdly with the odor of her dress also worn for a week, emblazoned with beer-spills and cigarette-ash and salted with the smelly sweat of sex, dread, fever, addiction—when she goes to the man, and is accepted by him, when all these stinking skins of hers have come off (either quickly, to get it over with, or slowly like a big truck pulling into a weigh station because she is tired), when she nakedly presents her soul’s ageing soul, exhaling from every pore physical and ectoplasmic her fourth and supreme smell which makes eyes water more than any queen of red onions—rotten waxy smell from between her breasts, I said, bloody pissy shitty smell from between her legs, sweat-smell and underarm-smell, all blended into her halo, generalized sweetish smell of unwashed flesh; when she hunkers painfully down with her customer on bed or a floor or in an alley, then she expects her own death. Her smell is enough to keep him from knowing the heart of her, and the heart of her is not the heart of it. The heart of it is that she is scared.” 5 likes
“Anyone who would pay to have sex with a woman who has no options deserves to get ripped off.” 4 likes
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