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Queer by William S. Burroughs

Queer (original 1985; edition 1988)

by William S. Burroughs

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1,142127,160 (3.55)28
Authors:William S. Burroughs
Info:G P Putnam's Sons (1988), Edition: Open Market Ed, Paperback, 160 pages
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Queer by William S. Burroughs (1985)


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A clean and intriguing book that goes absolutely nowhere. The prose isn't as sharp or funny as Junky, and the characters/situations seem flat in comparison, as if Bill Lee himself was just going through the motions while awaiting trial for his wife's accidental murder.

Still, an interesting portrait of lust as an addiction, but you can really tell that the novel wasn't completed. It ends, seemingly, halfway through a chapter. ( )
  blanderson | Mar 4, 2014 |
Such genius. This is a second read for me, trying out this new edition. Beyond the trip down memory lane, the manuscript notes are just fantastic. Very interesting editor's introduction. The scenes where Lee is alone with Allerton are heartbreaking in their emotional dryness. Staggering work. ( )
  JWarren42 | Oct 10, 2013 |
Queer is a companion piece to Burroughs' first novel, Junky, and best read as its sequel even though they actually overlap in time. It is an autobiographical novel depicting the author's period in Mexico City in the early 1950s after curing himself of heroin addiction, followed by a trip to Ecuador in search of an hallucinogenic drug called "Yage" which rumor said could stimulate telepathic powers. As in Junky, Burroughs names his alter-ego William Lee.

One of the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates is an intense sexual craving. Lee's desire for a young man named Eugene Allerton is the underlying theme of the novel. He pursues Allerton through the bars of Mexico City. The youth isn't homosexual, but is willing to put up with Lee's attentions in return for the drinks and meals he buys him. Allerton eventually gives in and agrees to accompany Lee on his Ecuador trip.

Queer isn't an exceptional novel on its own, but when juxtaposed against Junky it makes for a remarkably revealing reading experience. The William Lee of Junky is a man in control of everything but his drug habit. He is focused, businesslike, confident and dignified, even when penniless and dressed in rags. The William Lee of Queer, off the drug habit but drinking heavily to compensate, is brash, obnoxious, insecure, rambling, and, in the author's own words, "painful to watch." Significantly, Junky is written in first person while Queer, except for the epilogue, is in third person. It's as if Burroughs off junk is a stranger even to himself.

Queer was written in the 1950s on the heels of the events it portrays, but because of its pervasive (but never graphic) references to homosexuality it wasn't published until 1985. William Burroughs wrote, at that time, an introduction which is actually much better than the novel itself and just as revealing. He brings up finally the subject that he could not bear to address in his novels, the fact that during the events portrayed in Junky and Queer Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife. In fact, if you own both books I would recommend that you first read the 1985 introduction to Queer, then read Junky, then come back and read Queer. ( )
5 vote StevenTX | Jul 2, 2012 |
This book has been sitting on my library shelves for a couple of years untouched. Since it was William Burroughs, and looked like a fairly quick read, I decided to pick it up. Burroughs is one of the seminal American authors of the underground gay experience, right? I thought it would be like reading Alan Hollinghurst on cocaine - something I was looking forward to.

But I was highly disappointed. The novel's plot revolves around gay two heroin addicts, William Lee and Eugene Allerton. Lee's attraction to Allerton is completely and painfully unreciprocated. Despite all of Lee's attempts (which come in the form of embarrassing barside disquisitions in Mexican cantinas) to win Allerton's affections, it is all for naught. They decide to travel in search of some hallucinogenic drug which can only be obtained in the remote rainforest, and Lee promises to pay Allerton's way if he has sex with him a couple of times a week. In the end, the reader gets the impression that the quest for the drug is upset, much like Lee's wish for Allerton to love and appreciate him. The structure of the novel seems unmotivated and disinterested. It really seems to have no narrative "drive." I'm certainly not a reader that needs an action-packed novel by any stretch of the imagination, but there is nothing that compels the reader to keep reading - not even a chance of catching the two characters in licentious acts.

But for anyone out there that wants to discover Burroughs for themselves, I definitely recommend this as a first step: it is immanently readable, unlike some of Burroughs' later, more experimental fiction. For this reason, it is a perfect choice for readers who have not hitherto been introduced to some of the more difficult aspects of twentieth century fiction, like non-linear narration, that symptom of dread postmodernism. ( )
  kant1066 | Oct 14, 2011 |
This sequel (of sorts) to Junky introduces a vulnerable figure in Lee, a thinly veiled Burrroughs who pines for the affections of Allerton, a bar phantom hovering on the outskirts of Lee's acquaintance circle. In parts, an unrequited love (or lust) story, a mythical drug quest, and bursts of weird monologue. In the second half of the book, when the latter two elements come to the fore, the story really gains momentum. ( )
  poetontheone | Nov 1, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Burroughs, William S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harris, OliverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Lee turned his attention to a Jewish boy named Carl Steinberg, whom he had known casually for about a year.
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Non dimenticherò mai l'indicibile orrore che gelò la linfa nelle mie ghiandole - nelle ghiandole linfatiche, cioè, naturalmente - quando l'esecrabile parola sigillò il mio cervello vacillante: ero un omosessuale. Pensai ai travestiti smorfiosi e dipinti che avevo visto in un night club di Baltimora. Poteva essere che io fossi una di quelle cose subumane?
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In an introduction, Burroughs observes that he wrote this heretofore unpublished picaresque novel in 1951, well before Naked Lunch established his reputation. He reveals that the book had its genesis in a terrible event: his accidental shooting to death of his wife, Joan, a tragedy that released the black wellsprings of his talent. The narrative recounts the hallucinatory life of William Lee, an American in Mexico City in the 1940s and his journey to Ecuador with his reluctant lover, Eugene Allerton, in search of the drug Yage. Lee is Burroughs after the killing, weighed down by guilt, drugs, lust and despair; seeking lethe. Admirerers will find an early exposition of Burroughs's later themes here, as well as a strain of gallows humor. The work is almost cinematic as it unfolds; the author is not yet experimenting with the meaninglessness of language, and, indeed it is thin in both thought and expression. This is the first of a series of Burroughs's works to be issued by Viking.
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