Thursday, January 28, 2010

Queer, by William S. Burroughs

(pb; 1985: sequel to Junky)


Queer was written shortly after the publication of its source novel, but Queer wasn't published until almost thirty years later. Publishers weren't interested in it, "although Junky sold well" (by publishing standards).

Queer picks up where Junky left off.

Lee now lives in Mexico, where his G.I. Bill money keeps him financially afloat, floating between local bars, hoping to score junk (but largely not succeeding) and securing companionship (carnal or otherwise). He's lonely, but he can't return to America, where a long prison stretch (stemming from drug charges detailed in Junky) awaits.

When ranconteur, bleak-humored Lee meets a pretty young man, Eugene Allerton, he falls for Allerton hard, even though he knows Allerton is using him as a sugar daddy. It's a slow, depressing, finance-minded affair that becomes nakedly businesslike when Lee invites the tactiturn, equally self-absorbed Allerton to travel to the Amazon jungle (specifically, the town of Puyo) with him, to find a mystical hallucinogen ("Yage. . . Bannisteria caapi").

Throughout Queer, Burroughs maintains the edgy, bleak tone of Junky, but this time out the structure is less rigid, sometimes rambly (interspersed with strange jokes, outbursts of human warmth, and abrupt social departures).

As Burroughs notes in his 1985 introduction to Queer, "In. . . Junky, the protagonist 'Lee' comes across as integrated and self-contained, sure of himself and where he is going. In Queer, he is disintegrated, desperately in need of contact, completely unsure of himself and his purpose."

Queer is an outgoing juxtaposition to Junky, a worthwhile sequel that shows the other side of Burroughs's heroin-laced coin; that is, taken together, these two books form a fuller portrait of a man maturing, facing larger -- often harsher -- veracities.

Check these two books out.

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