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Butterfly Stories

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  524 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
Butterfly Stories follows a dizzying cradle-to-grave hunt for love that takes the narrator from the comfortable confines of suburban America to the killing fields of Cambodia, where he falls in love with Vanna, a prostitute from Phnom Penh. Here, Vollmann's gritty style perfectly serves his examination of sex, violence, and corruption.
Paperback, 281 pages
Published August 15th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1993)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 933)
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Ian Vinogradus
"One Must Do Abnormal Things"

The whole of Vollmann’s novel is conveyed by an omniscient narrator. It’s tempting to assume that it’s Vollmann himself. However, as usual that would probably be a mistake, even if we learn a lot about the author by what he writes in the guise of others.

The key protagonist is a male American, known variously as the butterfly boy, the journalist, the husband and Vanna’s husband.

These guises or masks represent different stages in the unnamed protagonist’s life. Vollman
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Moral fiction and Vollmann’s whores. By moral I want to mean the shape of a human being. DFW called it “what it’s like to be a fucking human being.” “Moral” is not a set of prescriptions and proscriptions, but the experience of having a world and being the kind of thing that has a definite way of being in that world; and being-with. Being-with is an empathy. Martha Nussbaum’s work is concerned with the way in which our moral being, our shaping ourselves into the kind of human beings we are, is w ...more
Aug 05, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it
My first of WTV's "Whore" novels, and I was greatly impressed. What I find most interesting about his project remains the fluidity of fictionalised selves he places at the center of his works. The "main character" here, for instance, is clearly a form of WTV with certain attributes and characteristics extended or given greater or lesser emphasis. These changes in turn lead to a narrative which, while I am sure contains much which has its roots in the autobiographical, is altered, distorted, fict ...more
Jan 29, 2016 AC rated it really liked it
This is a novel masquerading as a collection of short stories. Because of this approach, the novel consists of a series of vignettes or fragments. And that is, in part, the modern aspect of it. The prose is fairly conventional, though there are a few intersting stream-of-observation passages that are very effective.

The central, and by far the longest story -- "More Benadryl" -- is outstanding. It describes the experiences of the protagonist whoring in Thailand and in Cambodia just after the Khme
Nate D
Jul 26, 2010 Nate D rated it liked it
Recommended to Nate D by: random half-remembered criticism
Shelves: read-in-2010
My roommate, who was a much better teen than I was, read this when she was seventeen and mainly determined what to read by how disturbing it sounded. She recalls this novel as "adequately disturbing". I didn't exactly find it disturbing, despite its greatest part being an account of sex tourism in Vietnam and Cambodia. Rather, I felt pulled along its trajectory from pathetic and sad to pathetic and vaguely cathartic. The protagonist, who despite being described in third person (and often with th ...more
David M
May 13, 2016 David M rated it really liked it
Of all the Vollmann books I've read so far, I would say Butterfly Stories is the most punk, the most transgressive, and, let's be real, the just plain trashiest. Straight men aren't supposed to write this shamelessly about sex anymore - didn't he get the memo from David Foster Wallace? Apparently not, he carries on like a gooddamned homo, like he's Alan Hollinghurst or something. With this in mind, and giving all due deference to his love of pussy, I'd like to propose that Vollmann be named an h ...more
Dec 15, 2015 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Oh boy. Vollmann sure loves his whores. Almost every single book, whores whores whores. Even in one of the Seven Dreams books about Vikings and natives in 1000 AD, he crammed a section on them somewhere. Although I've never heard anybody else come close to approaching them with something almost like sensitivity. I suppose that's what I like about Vollmann - his talent for taking those at the very bottom, those most filthy and degraded and ignored, and making them human.

A short little parable on
Jul 21, 2016 Cody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[int: Typical American dining room. A boy sits alone at the table, playing with his food. His mind is obviously elsewhere, something that his mother soon notices]

Mother: Why Cody, you’ve barely touched your food.
Cody: I’m not hungry.
M: Of course you are, dear. Is something bothering you?
C: I don’t wanna talk about it.
M: Come now, you know you can tell me. Besides, if you don’t finish your dinner you can’t have any pi-men-to loaf.
C: No pimento loaf?!?
M: Not until you tell me what’s on your mind.
Jeffrey Paris [was Infinite Tasks]
Sigh. How do you rate a book like this? At best, it reminds me of Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," in which I constantly said to myself (or maybe it was aloud), "Wtf, is this really a book, or is it actually the total corruption of a human soul drawn on the pages of a book?" The drawings by Vollman make the comparison more than a little obvious, I guess. Anybody out there have one of the color versions?
(view spoiler)
Angela Roberts
Jul 15, 2008 Angela Roberts rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: perverts, assholes, violence junkies, people who like Vollman's stuff
***I wrote this in a slap dash way and will be editing it in the future. Sorry. ***

I started to read this book with a kind of sneering contempt and felt that the narrator too pathetic, the setting was predictably offensive, everything about Butterfly Stories seemed too self-conscious, too sensational, just kind of mawkish and over-written in a bad way.

As I continued reading though, I feel like the greater project of the novel lured me in, ultimately that was the most satisfying and amazing part
Feb 26, 2010 Natalie rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
William T. Vollmann writes a lot about whores without managing to come off as a gynophobic prick. His writing and turns of phrase are unparalleled.

Two American men - a journalist and a photographer - travel to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, for the express purpose of gorging on as many whores as they can stand. Afterward, of course, they discard the women like the condoms they don't use. This, and some introspective mooning on the part of the journalist, is pretty much the action.

The self-refe
Apr 07, 2009 Nathaniel rated it it was ok
Vollman’s guided tour through a highly personal experience of Thai and Cambodian prostitution is operated neither for the benefit of lusty travelers nor for the righteously indignant. He deploys neither statistics nor sob stories to manipulate his readers, nor does he pander to voyeurists and perverts. However, his project is still manipulative—especially because of the tacked on narrative frame.

The bulk of the novel (at least 80% of it) transpires in chapters three and four. These can (and shou
Feb 13, 2008 Jill rated it it was ok
I got herpes, aids and the clap just from reading this depressing book.
Jan 22, 2013 Jason rated it it was amazing
This book and others by Vollmann came highly recommended by my dear friend and confidant Natalie Ballard. So, while returning home from Cambodia, I started reading it. What a perfect, absolutely perfect time to read such a novel. It is reminiscent of the time I read "Blood Meridian" for the first time while traveling across the Chinese desert by train. Sometimes, the setting in which you read a book is worth a star in itself.

With that said, "Butterfly Stories" would probably have gotten five sta
Alexander Weber
Oct 05, 2014 Alexander Weber rated it liked it
3.5/5 stars.
The ideas are there, but I just didn't find myself fully immersed in our protagonist's world. This book doesn't have the dazzling prose that other Vollmann novels offer, such as The Ice Shirt or The Rifles. More similar, in style and prose, to Whores for Gloria. Both books explore the same themes, besides prostitution: a man falling for a prostitute and then slowly going insane (or does Whores for Gloria start with an insane protagonist?). If you're really into Hubert Selby Jr and Bu
Jul 22, 2016 George rated it really liked it
This book, like Whores for Gloria, is primarily about love. It is part of the Whore Trilogy, I would rather call Love Trilogy, and is oozing the great feeling of love. I enjoyed most of the little book, but damn was it sad in a lot of parts. Butterfly was much more realistic than Whores, in which the latter had a magical tone to it. Vollmann still raises the women in this book to a higher level in society than they are used to being raised. It is a good book to read in the Vollmann cannon, but s ...more
Mar 08, 2010 Leah rated it did not like it
“ . . . she couldn’t exactly be enjoying herself, but the similarity between wives and whores is that you don’t have to consider their pleasure when you f*ck them . .”
I think this pretty much sums up the sentiment of this book. It was entirely chauvinistic and degrading, and the characters were despicable in an outright way with no naivety that could help your relate to them. I don’t have anything against books with promiscuity or prostitution if its done well but this one was just a gross excu
Jack Waters
May 02, 2013 Jack Waters rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
Vollmann continually floors me with his writing. His ability in conveying human interaction regardless of a character's motives is one of his finer attributes. He doesn't bumper-sticker you with what to think with regard to the situations. He places you at the level of the interaction and lets the minds and actions of the characters weave the story. That's what, to me, makes Vollmann's writing timeless.

I will now refer you to Nathan's brilliant review of this book. It is one of the finest review
Jan 21, 2016 Cinesnag rated it really liked it
I'm not sure that I agree with other reviewers who say this is a collection of short stories. I'm not sure that I agree with other reviewers who say this is a novel. It is definitely split into eight distinct sections/chapters/stories. Each of these is further broken down into smaller pieces and deliciously illustrated by WTV. For the first half of the book - I did believe this was a collection of short stories. They seemed so independent of each other and had such distinct voices that they did ...more
May 09, 2010 Justin rated it it was amazing
Roughly, I'll sum this book up this way: We feel great pain from the early days of our childhoods, and in our life's search for love we recreate this pain over and over until it destroys us. And there's lots of whores.
Sep 03, 2013 Adam rated it liked it
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
"The punchline of the closed episode recedes as experience continues, which must be why it's so difficult to learn anything."
Aug 18, 2010 Kyle rated it liked it
Asian whores and a lost expat.

Vollman fantasizes about what a guy who turns himself loose from his native identity might become, and the picture isn't pretty.

I loved this book, up until the part where the protagonist returns to the west and starts banging smack and shacking up with crack whores. Vollman intended it as a moralizing elaboration on the Thai sex trade, i think, but lost his way in an ethical determination propelled more by feminist doublespeak than any human insight. The ending riv
Adrian Astur Alvarez
Vollmann's tale of an aimless traveler looking for connection has well crafted sentences, a creative mix of short chapters and illustrations (by the author), and the ability to give the reader a precise sense of place. Towards the end, however, (and maybe this is just my issue) the meandering character devolved into a meandering book and though the writing was never superfluous, the story structure unraveled a little too much for me and I became bored. Still, one could do better being bored by W ...more
Jan 13, 2016 Sean rated it liked it
As ever, his writing is amazing in this collection of stories that make up a kind of novel. Compared to his Seven Dreams series and other works, I find the navel-gazing and whoring that make up this book somewhat less compelling. But it's still more insightful than most novels I read.
Nathan Black
Feb 14, 2016 Nathan Black rated it really liked it
One of the most depraved and unnerving love stories I have ever read.
That makes it sound like I read a lot of love stories. I don't but if more love stories were written like this I would read them more often.
Josiah Miller
Feb 22, 2015 Josiah Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another great novel by Vollmann. Not a masterpiece, but a poignant novel and exotic at the same time with typical Vollmann sentences of beauty. This is someone who is passionate about his subject.matter.
Apr 27, 2014 Brian rated it liked it
Some of the subject matter is appalling but there's a quality to the writing and construction of the novel that I could not dismiss.
Jonathan yates
Dec 05, 2010 Jonathan yates rated it it was ok
This book didn't strike any of the chords that i've grown to expect out of Vollman, i couldn't actually get into any of the characters and not just because they're whoring men and confused expat's slowly losing their grip, more because of the fact that the story seems to have become disjointed as it continues on it's way, the first half of the book is very much a story and then when he (the main character) arrives back in america it just becomes a ramble that although i'm sure i could find some ...more
Jun 13, 2012 John rated it really liked it
you can read all the little blurbs about Vollmann on his bookcovers and what-not, but i find myself once again impressed by his writing. this has the makings of a pretty lurid, self-absorbed plunge into Cambodian prostitution, but instead--hey, i sorta pity this confused guy in love with love, and desperate to import his "new wife" back to america. the writing also seems to get better as the book goes on, as the man becomes more desperate, vollmann's writing becomes more feverish, more dreamy. d ...more
Jun 01, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
For the first half of this book, we sympathize with the "butterfly boy" who finds solace in friendships with girls while his second grade male classmates repeatedly kick his ass. This boy grows up to become a journalist of a far less sympathetic character, as we follow him through a sex tour of Cambodia and Thailand.

After our protagonist returns to the States, the narrative gets a little looser. Memories, fantasies, and actual events all merge into a blur of an increasingly troubled man.
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William T Vollman...: 1993 Butterfly Stories 5 43 Jul 15, 2015 06:07AM  
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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.

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