“The Lucky Star” by William T. Vollman— Desire and Life

Vollmann, William T. “The Lucky Star: A Novel”, Viking, 2020.

Desire and Life

Amos Lassen

In the past, National Book Award William T. Vollmann wrote about  the lives of the dispossessed in San Francisco. In “The Lucky Star”, he returns to them with a parable about the limitations of desire and life at the margins of society. The story centers on a woman with magical powers whom everyone loves, and who has to love them all back.

Neva has been initiated into a coven of island witches and begins to fulfill her fate in a Tenderloin dive bar. Her worshippers include Richard, an introverted, alcoholic, occasionally omniscient narrator; Shantelle, a profane, aggressive transgender sex worker; Francine, the brisk but motherly barmaid and Frank, who has renamed herself  Judy after her idol Judy Garland. When Judy starts to love Neva too much, Judy’s retired policeman boyfriend begins a mission of exposure and destruction.

We read of slow burn relationships with Neva, a magical Christ-like figure who is both cursed and blessed with the power to dispense endless love. Vollmann comes across as vulgar and sick yet beautiful in his use of prose. He makes us aware of the value of everyone who is around us .

The language is spiritual and sexually graphic yet the novel brims with compassion while exploring celebrity culture, gender identity, incest, Christian sacrifice and the heroism of “marginalized people who in the face of humiliation and outright violence seek to love in their own way, and stand up for who they are.” To say more than that would ruin a terrific read.

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