The prolific Vollmann, fresh from a sadomasochistic survey in Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs (p. 258), makes another savage thrust into society's sexual fringes with this fractured tale of Southeast Asian prostitutes and a journalist who couldn't say no. The ``Butterfly boy,'' first seen at school, has no friends among his male peers, instead being terrorized by them and by a bully until he is saved by a girl admirer. Ever the outcast, as an adult he travels with a photographer to Thailand and Cambodia on assignment, but the two spend far more time with the prostitutes than gathering material for a story. Unlike the photographer who uses his women without becoming interested in them, the journalist approaches them sympathetically, with an earnestness that both attracts and embarrasses them. By the time he returns to San Francisco, he's fallen in love with a Cambodian woman and become HIV-positive; he wants only to divorce his wife, however, and bring Vanna and her child to America. Unable to locate her from a distance, he begs another assignment, eventually reaching Bangkok and crossing clandestinely into Cambodia, but language difficulties and social differences keep him from achieving his goal. Under the corrosive influence of his callous fellow traveller, he allows himself to be tempted by other flesh--but in the fevered state brought on by various sexually transmitted diseases, a bottle of Benadryl is ultimately his only consolation. The flesh-peddling and sensory overload of Southeast Asia fill every page, but they're given such a weak lead that the story has nowhere to go: scenes of decay and corruption rule in unchallenged succession.