“Things Like Kidnapping the Sex Slave” — William T. Vollmann Speaks of Women

More from The Paris Review’s vaults. Highlights from William T. Vollmann’s 2000 interview (the entire thing is precious. Just precious) —

VOLLMANN: One of the things that I had to do occasionally while I was collecting information for that prostitute story, “Ladies and Red Lights” from The Rainbow Stories, was sit in a corner and pull down my pants and masturbate. I would pretend to do this while I was asking the prostitutes questions. Because otherwise, they were utterly afraid of me and utterly miserable, thinking I was a cop.

. . .

I kept thinking when I first began writing that my female characters were very weak and unconvincing. What is the best way to really improve that? I thought, Well, the best way is to have relationships with a lot of different women. What’s the best way to do that? It’s to pick up whores.

. . .

Also, I often feel lonely.

. . .

I almost never sleep with American prostitutes any more, unless they really want me to—if they are going to get hurt if I don’t.

. . .

Anyway, so when I was in Thailand, I went to a town in the south and bought a young girl for the night. This awful brothel—one of these places hidden behind a flowershop with all these tunnels and locked doors and stuff—was like a prison. I tried to help a couple of the girls but you just can’t get them out. I tried and I couldn’t. I made the mistake of going to the police, trying to have the police get them out—all that did was nearly get them arrested and put in jail, because the police are paid off. I managed to get the raid called off by taking all the cops out to dinner and buying them Johnnie Walker. I bought this fourteen-year-old girl and got her in a truck and drove like hell to Bangkok. I was with this other girl at the time—Yhone-Yhone, a street prostitute, a very happy one. She was my interpreter. She put the fourteen-year-old girl at ease and got her to trust me. We got her set up at a school run by a relative of the king of Thailand. I went up north, met her father, gave him some money, and got a receipt for his daughter. He didn’t know she’d been sold to a brothel. When I met him and told him he said, Oh. I didn’t know that, but, well, whatever she wants. He’s not a bad guy, just a total loser. He’s a former Chiang Kai-shek soldier. They’re all squatters there in Thailand. They can’t read or write. He lives on dried dogs and dried snakes.

INTERVIEWER: You own his daughter?

VOLLMANN: That’s right. I own her. She doesn’t particularly like me, but she was really happy to be out of that place. She loves the school. It’s sort of a vocational school. It’s called something like the Center for the Promotion of the Status of Women. Many former prostitutes are in there.

. . .

The common motif is just prostitution and love.

. . .

I want to take some responsibility and act as well as write. I don’t mean to be an actor, but rather to accomplish things . . . do things that will help people somehow . . . things like kidnapping the sex slave. It would be great if I could make my contribution to abolishing the automobile or eliminating television or something like that.

5 thoughts on ““Things Like Kidnapping the Sex Slave” — William T. Vollmann Speaks of Women”

  1. Yay! William Vollmann. Up to his old tricks again, you just can’t keep that guy away from the prostitutes.

    I seriously don’t know what to think of him. I’ve read only a little of his work and think he’s very good, but he just sounds like such a fake character it is hard to believe he can exist in our universe.


    1. I agree: he’s a weirdo. I don’t know if you read the whole interview, but I think he comes across as deeply sincere and also keenly aware of his weirdness and of the fact that he’s almost a novelty. If his gig is a shtick, he’s sticking to it w/ fidelity. Who else can write a 2000+ page book every year? The whole thing with his sister dying under his care when they were children is also kind of part of his persona/mythology…


  2. Yeah I mean, even though I have no reason to doubt him that story about his sister has always sounded like something from a comic book. I wonder what it feels like to be the guy who writes so many long books that seem destined to never be read? I hope to one day get all pumped up and actually read “Rising Up and Rising Down” but I just don’t know if it will ever happen. At least when Pynchon writes a thousand page novel it is really funny and full of goofy names.


    1. Ha! Yeah–it’s totally comic book origin stuff.

      Actually a William T. Vollmann comic is a great idea. Like, a comic about him (not by him. Or maybe by him).

      I don’t think that anyone read the whole of Rising Up, Rising Down.

      I don’t know if you’ve read The Rifles or Butterfly Stories, but both are manageable, digestible reads.


  3. I read Butterfly Stories and I really liked it a lot. I think it’s the only one I’ve actually finished. Europe Central sits on my stack of must-reads and mocks me every day.

    Michael Kupperman should do a comic book series called “The Adventures of William T. Vollmann”


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