After being initiated into a coven of island witches, Neva begins to fulfill her fate in a Tenderloin dive bar. Her worshippers include the former Frank, who has renamed herself after her idol Judy Garland. When Judy starts to love Neva too much, Judy's retired policeman boyfriend embarks on a mission of exposure and destruction.
... a book that sails effortlessly past the 600-page mark ... Vollmann has a penchant for writing about sex, and he holds back little. There are moments when it seems the novel doesn’t have any real destination in mind beyond the next climax...And yet some worthy themes emerge ... Vollmann is harsh on his characters ... Though it is set in recent years, The Lucky Star is really a lament for the old, dirty San Francisco, the city of Kathy Acker and Seth Morgan, and Vollmann’s own earlier work ... With this confounding, intermittently entertaining book, we can consider the author’s nostalgia for the old San Francisco squared. Unless, that is, he has a few thousand more pages in him.
Vollmann gives a documentary accounting of life on the margins, riffing on such themes as bigotry, idolatry, gender fluidity, vulnerability, consent, resilience and love ... what’s driving this train? Vollmann writes in an afterword of his aspiration to give hope to 'anyone who suffers the shame and isolation associated with nonconforming sexual identity', and says that with this novel, he’s tried to portray the 'beautiful female strength' exhibited by the 'trannies, lesbians, showgirls' who provided so much of his source material. Noble goals, for sure. But his narrative strategy threatens to derail them ... is gilded with the signature Vollmann brew of erudition, irony, mysticism and banality ... Yet in this novel pain is omnipresent, and only orgasmic pleasure (sometimes in the form of more pain) can turn things, fleetingly, right-side up. So we are also given a torrent of sex — sex that is often deadeningly unsexy, an exercise in desensitization through repetition ... Vollmann’s prose can be evocative and deliciously incisive. But it is just as often clunky, flat, absurdly ornate or plain bad ... With each passing page, I was more likely to groan not from pleasure but from boredom. This applied to the climaxing, but also to the chatter: the gossip, the confessions, the barside bromides, the characters’ ceaseless whining and rehearsals of anxieties and slights ... Vollmann seems to want to restore balance, assign dignity, to those hobbled by a toxic standard. Maybe he would argue he has empowered his feminine characters by giving them voice, by rendering them in all their magnificent pathos. But this is a difficult idea to swallow in a novel where femininity is inextricably, exuberantly linked with miserable yearning and sexual objectification ... If Vollmann’s vérité portraits are meant to stand alone as critique he has drowned himself out in an avalanche of piteousness and porn.
... while it possesses the scope of [Vollmann's] past novels, it also feels driven by an urgent contempt toward current politics. His narrator often refers to an 'uncouth nationalist' who recently won an election, but Vollmann’s aim is broader — to build a sense of fictional community that welcomes anybody who seeks love and fellowship with others ... Like many Vollmann novels, The Lucky Star is too long. But at the same time, it develops a powerful sense of human life and its elemental pleasures set amid countless scenes of sucking, licking, penetrating and more. At times, this tawdry tableau rises like a bright balloon out of the sticky world into a better, more ethereal place ... At times it provides a sense that love is both miraculous and mundane; at others, it feels like the longest possible candidate for a Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Ultimately, though, it adds up to a hypnotic, sad and angry novel about people striving to be more than they’re allowed to be — a 'seance' of rough living and simple community that rejects no one ... Vollmann’s books embrace everything and everybody, and it is hard to read him without feeling both energized and exhausted. It’s also hard not to wonder what kind of person could produce such things in such volume.