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They Whisper [Hardcover]

Robert Olen Butler
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 14 1994
As Ira Butler moves into middle-age, he is driven to examine his sexuality and its obsessive hold on him. Reliving moments of intimacy with his past lovers, they become so real to him once more that he sometimes finds himself speaking through them, creating a narrative of sensuality and eroticism.

Product Details

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Known for the psychological acuity of his six previous novels and for the short story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain , for which he won the Pulitzer last year, Butler here moves into new territory. This is a literary novel about the physical chemistry of sensual love, told in lyrical prose via a sensitive narrator who venerates the memories of the many women with whom he has coupled, and who "hears" the whispers of their voices, which are interwoven into the text. At 35, Ira Holloway is a man who lives intensely through his senses; the slightest visual or olfactory stimulation releases sensual memories, which he recollects in a highly charged stream of consciousness. Holloway's sexual experiences go back to his youth in Wabash, Ill., his service in Vietnam, his affairs in Zurich and in New York, where he currently works in public relations. But Holloway is not a conventional, and thereby contemptible, womanizer; he is a man whose eroticism is coupled with a true appreciation of female sexuality and respect for women as individuals. More than a mere litany of sexual unions, the novel is, au fond , the record of Holloway's tormented marriage to a woman in the grip of a religious obsession that accelerates from eccentric to insane, and the anguished decisions he makes for the sake of their son. While the descriptions of erotic love are integral to the plot, the highly charged sensuality, the details of the rising stages of lust and the relentless stream-of-consciousness monologue sometimes grow wearisome. Some may empathize with Holloway when he confesses: "I can become a little overwhelmed by the vast chorus that sings all around me, all the women, their throats throbbing in an Ode to Joy." 75,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Butler has already published six novels to subdued response, but his first collection of stories, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain ( LJ 5/1/92), won the Pultizer Prize. This new novel details the rich, erotic life of Ira Holloway, an ordinary 40-year-old guy.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The voice of love and sadness May 25 2003
The first thing that attracted me to 'They Whisper' was its cover. I found it very beautiful with this dark red in the background and the photo of a male and famale body in blue. But when I started reading the book I was hooked by Robert Olen Butler's style and narrative. This is not an easy book. Full of undertones, and with a specific pace, masses will never be able to enjoy it. It requires a lot of strengh to go through all the pain of its pages.
Ira Holloway is the narrator, but form time to time he lets women he knows to speak for themselves, rather these women whisper to him their inner thought and desires, their view of the situation. When he meets Fiona, they immediately fall in love, and get married, but they can have a normal life, because both are hunted by dark past secrets that may lead the to hell. Him from the Vietan war, and beautiful Vietnamese that he loved. Her secrets are about her childhood, and they may push her toward madness. After his son is born he changes completely --well, sort of-- and starts to concentrate his love on the boy --and consequently to the boy's mother (his wife), once he doesn't her to suffer and make the kid suffer too. And this is really beautiful.
It is admirable how sincere Butler is when it comes to both male and female feelings. One may wonder how he knows so much about human psyche and the process of loving and desiring someone. This book is a great read, but, again, not for everyone. Some people may be offended by Butler sincerity and even call him sexist-- what is not true. Moreover, it is a book that it is not easy to forget.
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Butler steps in and creates a whirling erotic novel that makes one appreciate all the subtleties of sexual relationships. Ira Halloway, the protagonist, lives for love (and sex, of course); he breaths it; he thrives on it. He carries the memories of his former lovers, memories that lie as secrets inside him. These women's voices whisper to him, reminding him of intimate moments: back in Vietnam as a soldier among cocoa-skinned prostitutes, in Illinois as a hormone-driven boy, in New York as a father-lover. The prose flows smoothly like his thoughts and Butler must get credit for this. Beautiful language. And most of the story takes place in Halloway's mind, where his brain tries to make sense of his landscape of lovers. He remembers the parts of women's bodies as though they are religious idols: the insteps, the toes, the rounded shoulders, the rose-tinted nipples, and just about every other crevice and appendage that a woman has. All these memories create nervous conflict. His wife, once the victim of incest, turns deeply religious---fanatical---and Halloway must tread lightly around her struggles or risk losing both her and, more importantly, their son. I enjoyed the book, and if I have anything critical to say about it, I'd have to accuse it as being long-winded and monotonous at times. Read it anyway and form your own opinion.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Loves women or himself? Aug. 26 1999
By A Customer
What I find particularly galling about this book is the claim that the protaganist loves and cherishes all women. If so, then why does he support prostitution, which is the debasement and subjugation of women? I almost gagged as I read about his numerous experiences with prostitutes. He seems to think that he was always the one john that they truly had feelings for. I wonder how many egotistical men who were told "you're the best" by a hooker actually believed it. Well, this one certainly fell for it hook,line and sinker. He also seemed to think that he could use his penis to save all womankind - spare me! I gave it two stars because there was some redeeming value to this mess. The storyline involving his wife was compelling.
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4.0 out of 5 stars the man who loved women May 16 2001
butler is another louisiana writer i have come to appreciate. not many male writers can write female characters well...this guy is so good it, makes you wonder if he lives inside their heads...maybe he grew up in a house full of women?.....the dialog is excellent...and the female characters are as intriguing as the protagonist...some people griped about the glorification of prostitution...but it is a necessary evil...it's more honest for a guy to pay for sex, than it is for him to wine and dine a woman, giving her expensive gifts, to get her into bed with him....
i thought fiona's story was excellent , yet sad....
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3.0 out of 5 stars Obsessively obsessive? Oct. 24 2000
By A Customer
What I admire about the novel is the lyrical intensity of its (often successful) attempt to recreate erotic obsession. What I don't admire is a redundancy of detail and motif that often veers toward monotony. Scenery is well drawn (Southeast Asia, NYC, various rural outposts of the US) and dialogue is generally terse. Though plot is not a dominant element here, being subsidiary to image and tone, it's sometimes a bit formulaic, especially the end. It's worthwhile if you're a patient reader and enjoy psychic/linguistic convolutions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Butler's Fantasia on Sex March 23 1998
The way men approach sex is very different from the way women approach it, and Butler epitomizes the male approach.
A little bit predatory, a little crude, with not a small amount of self-centeredness and condescension, Butler writes lovingly of the smells, tastes and heat of sex. His tales of pursuit and conquest are the closest thing in print to a real affair.
He genuinely loves women -- all women -- and his desire to possess all of them is startlingly real and musky.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars They Whisper
I couldn't get into this book. The man is obsessed by women and seems to think about nothing else. Then he does not love his woman and plays the suffering martyr. Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2002 by Judy Edwards
4.0 out of 5 stars Loud Whispers
Butler sneaks a deep peak into all the women he loved. When he makes love to every one of them, he mysteriously could sense their inner feelings. Read more
Published on May 20 2002 by Keesak
4.0 out of 5 stars They Whisper
Beautiful language; slightly erotic. Interesting perspective on women from a male point of view. About two-thirds of the way through it becomes a bit boring, but continue... Read more
Published on Dec 17 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous writing
Worth the read just for the prose. Butler is the current king of erotic literature, with an ability to write it out so that you feel every single nuance of his desires.
Published on Aug. 27 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Found it by chance, opened my eyes to male sexuality
I could not put this book down for a minute and I could not beleive that a male author could write so eloqently, sexually and emotionally, about his love for women. Read more
Published on June 3 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
I have loaned this book to many female friends. I am amazed at the number who return it unread. They have no clue to the sumptuous secrets that are revealed.
Published on April 25 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars great writing by a male author in the voices of women
Butler tells a great story here, as in all his books, but this one stands out for his best use of the language. Read more
Published on June 15 1998
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