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What follows is an account of a presentation by William T. Vollmann mostly about The Book of Dolores that occurred in Brooklyn on October 24, 2013.
Allow me to propose a new definition of "jumping the shark": you jump over what you can't categorize — what you're afraid of, what you may have forgotten — to a safer space. 

While “jumping the shark” could lead to the demise of literary credibility (i.e. the end of the show as it were, per the original pop-reference), in its new sense the phrase suggests that, by not wholly recognizing William T. Vollmann's talents, the literary establishment shows that it seeks safety from such an uncategorizable shark, this fearsomely talented shark — for Mr. Vollmann is, indeed, a heavyweight shark.

Mr. Vollmann spoke at Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo, Brooklyn, on Thursday, October 24, 2013, about his newest book, The Book of Dolores. He's spent the last five years dressing in drag, on-and-off, so he said. He took pictures of himself and wrote essays to go with the photos on the arcane methods of film-processing techniques he used. "If you have the right paper, the print can last for one- or two-hundred years." 

And would he continue to cross-dress? Probably, from time to time. "Dolores is not dead." But, Mr. Vollmann himself is not a cross-dresser: "I am a happily heterosexual male." 

What does that even mean? It means that people can't place him on any spectrum. Perhaps one can try, but he can’t be pinned down.

Credential-wise, it would seem that Mr. Vollmann would be a darling of the literary establishment. After all these years of publishing, Mr. Vollmann still seems like an outsider even after having received a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winning a Whiting Award, a PEN/Hemingway Prize, a Strauss Living Award, and the National Book Award. Possibly Mr. Vollmann was considered a darling after winning a Whiting Award for You Bright and Risen Angels, his first novel? Or maybe after the National Book Award? Not sure, since he won it for Europe Central, a book almost no one's heard of. I'm sure the award did something for sales but I doubt Europe Central was widely read. 

His journalistic endeavors with various magazines and his non-fiction, notably Rising Up and Rising Down (3,000+ pages), are not quantifiable in a literary sense. Maybe he's earned some cred for having written what could be the history of violence, but again, it's hard to read 3,000 pages. 

Maybe his forays into historical fiction, for example, his Seven Dreams series that comes out erratically and in no certain order (he's not writing it consecutively 1 through 7; he's writing, 6, 4, 1, 3, etc) are literary, but maybe they're not the right type of literary. (His current project is on the Nez Perce Indians.) And then he also occasionally wanders into the realm of "armchair" sociologist with travel journals and essays about the downtrodden and weak. 

All of which are suitably "literary," of course. 

Which begs the question: what does a "literary" writer have to do to be honored by the masses" 

Mr. Vollmann might say, "Cast the first stone [you literary establishmentarian]," but I doubt such a question would cross his mind. He'd turn his cheek and refuse to be pigeonholed. I don't think he's concerned about what people think. He is who he is.

"William T. Vollman is a fascinating writer, one whom few other writers can touch . . . Extremity upon extremity is his method of attack. Read him. Fear him." — Esquire

"A writer whose books tower over the work of his contemporaries." — Washington Post Book World

"Vollmann's constituency is anyone interested in the written word's indelible ability to effect social change . . ." — San Fransisco Chronicle

"A monster; monster of talent, ambition, and accomplishment." — Los Angeles Times

It's possible the only concern he may have with those "thinkers about him" is that he would want those people to trust him, trust him with their story. I believe he's an altruist and a seeker of knowledge. He exposes what's on the ground. He doesn't seem to do things he doesn't want to do. He does what he wants to do—because they interest him. And I believe he wants to point things out to himself, to show himself something, to teach, to learn. If he points things out to other people, that's pretty much a side note.

The mild-mannered "character" in the above photo is a genius. Maybe he doesn't know it. He's just a man. He treats everyone the same, he said. "I'm never dressing up in a suit again. People in suits are the same as a homeless person. Everyone is the same . . . I may ride the trains and sleep with the homeless and I don't smell that great, but I'm the same person. I like to shower and wear deodorant when I'm at home."

During the Q&A he was asked what made him feel so special that he could write a book about himself? 

Why would he think that dressing up in drag would help him understand the female? The male gaze? 

Why didn't he write something about the downtrodden here? 

Why didn't he write about the transgendered women in Southeast Asia? 

Why didn't he write about . . . ? 

Because he could. 

Because he wanted to. 

Because Dolores was there.

Secondly, he's in the process of doing an oral history of transgendered women in Southeast Asia and in Mexico. He also just wrote a book about transgressive and manufactured femininity in Japanese Noh Theater: Kissing the Mask.

Mr. Vollmann has answers. Of course. He is already doing what you think he should be doing, or he's already done it. But if he hasn't done it, he's already thought about it, most likely, and will get around to doing it one day. One day. 

His answers may not come from himself, however—he said he was a "vessel" for other people's stories. But he will let you know. Go to a Vollmann reading and Q&A. You will be rewarded.

He admitted at Powerhouse that his favorite author is Dostoyevsky, because he talked to people, and people talk in his books. And it's kind of hard to find people to talk to here in America now. People just don't talk anymore, he said. 

In an aside about "t-girls" in Southeast Asia and Latin America while answering a question completely unrelated, one finds THE revelation about Mr. Vollmann. He talks to people. And people talk back. It's a half-truth, almost, that people "don't talk anymore." Either here in the United States, or elsewhere. 

And that's the beauty of Mr. Vollmann. He ferrets out the story in each of his subjects, perhaps in each of his readers/voyeurs. He would say that most people want to talk, about something. They just might not know how to do it, or who to tell their story to. 

Mr. Vollmann can do it, though. He even invited those who attended his reading to go out for drinks with him afterward. The opportunity to speak with a master storyteller and to get him to pick your brain and for you to try to find out how you both tick? Wow.

Researching for Dolores, he spent time with cross-dressers in San Francisco, and they wanted him to dress up. They explained how they create their breasts out of orange peels. They showed him how he looked in a wig. Why don't you put on this red corset? He said that a picture of him in a blond wig made him look a little like his youngest sister. When it was shown to a friend of his sister’s, they said, M__ looks like she was really ill that day.

"I write what I experience and what I am curious about. It may not be perfect," he said. But that doesn't matter. He takes chances others fear to live.

When asked what his personal favorite book that he's written, he said "Whatever I'm currently writing." 

At the Powerhouse reading, whose publishing arm, Powerhouse Books, published The Book of Dolores, Mr. Vollmann read from a novel-in-progress, How You Are, accompanied by a slideshow of photos about Dolores and her life as a middle-aged man who decided to dress in drag and become a prostitute. (He said he feels the novel will probably never be published.) He has no hidden agenda. This was not artifice. This was "simply" a study of deconstruction of gender and identity.

There were passages about looking in the mirror (as a man, looking at a woman), and having the male alter-ego feel Dolores' breasts and the constantly hard nipples. How he loved touching them. Feeling them against his fingers. And the smell of a woman. Another woman. On his hands. His clothes. And the look of a woman's neck. And the problem with his glasses and how that called attention to his near-sightedness.

There were passages of conversations with another transgendered prostitute and an experience/inexperience, master/slave confluence. How neither wanted to give up their penis. Dismay at the death of a younger "sister."

He summarized the book for everyone, since it will "never be published," thusly: middle-age, gender-identity/non-identity, transgendered, prostitution, Mexico, meth, addict, suicide.

“Mr. Vollmann, have you jumped the shark?” 

Although this question didn’t come up in the Powerhouse Q&A, I imagine he would say "You must be speaking to Dolores; no one would have jumped her, except, maybe, the taxi driver who had moved back to Mexico City from Albuquerque because he needed money as his wife was dying, and who had a special arrangement with her to do as he wanted sexually. But even him, I think he more liked to talk and touch Dolores' fake breasts."

How would he really respond? Very well, I'm sure.

[Forever after at 


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