Comments on Queer

QueerQueer by William S. Burroughs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am so often flabbergasted by the comments people make in goodreads. Burroughs’ Queer seems to bring out a bumper crop of nonsense. Is this good queer lit? Does it contribute to gay acceptance or detract from it? Was Lee attracted to boys who were too young? Where is Lee’s wife from Junky? Not only are these questions irrelevant, they’re not even about literature. People don’t seem to know what fiction is anymore. These are not real people; you don’t know them; they will never intersect with you in the real world; they are characters! And treating fiction (or stand-up comedy, film, poetry, music lyrics) as rhetoric, even as manifestos, to be parsed for eco-socio-cultural-political rectitude is not only wrong-headed but kills all appreciation for the aesthetic.

Of course, the confusion by some commentators between Burroughs the author and Lee the protagonist is to be expected, sadly. Like Kerouac, Burroughs used his own life as inspiration, so readers jump to the conclusion that this is autobiography. Then they judge the book, positively or negatively, based on the man’s life. Give it a rest children.

So, for readers who care about the art and craft of writing, this reviewer’s opinion is that this book is weaker than Junky, the only other Burroughs work to be written in the realist mode. There are more elements of novelistic technique here, such as the use of an overall plot arc and some character and inter-relationship development. But not much. Burroughs’ abandonment of these techniques and his replacement of them with a blazing new syntax in his later novels are what proved his genius. This is a little like van Gogh’s early sketch work: if you see that and nothing else, you think this guy will never make anything of himself. Even the tight reportage paragraphing of Junky, a revelation and inspiration for anyone who is interested in creative nonfiction, is mostly missing here. The novel provides a bridge between the narrative of Junky and the epistolary reports in The Yage Letters. It also has some nascent routines, some of which do transcend those in Junky and really compare to those in Naked Lunch.

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