Book Review: Queer by William Burroughs

I think I like the idea of Beat better than I like the writing

Book COver William Burroughs QueerThe blurb said this laid Burroughs’ soul bare. I haven’t read much else of his to know how this compares – but this didn’t strike me as particularly warm. If this is Burroughs spilling his guts then God only knows how removed the rest of his stuff is.

The style is pleasingly paired-down, but almost to the point of bragging/alienating his less cool readers: He mentions that the protagonist, William Lee, is having a bad day so he washes down a small piece of opium, and then wanders out where he meets so-and-so.

Sorry, wait a sec, go back: for those of us with no idea how a ‘small piece of opium’ hits you, could you please elaborate?

The unrequited love aspect is well-observed – the impotent pain of knowing you’ve got nothing to offer the object of your affections and that your need is just irritating them. In this Lee winds up pretty much buying time with the man he loves, which is all kinds of uncomfortable.

There are some pleasing descriptions of the Latin American terrain, and some social neurosis in Lee which made me warm to him a bit more… but generally this is travel notes. There isn’t any real plot, and the paired-back style is often too throwaway. In the absence of much plot we have experiences which are, I suppose, interesting enough to be freestanding and worth writing up as they are – but if that’s the main thing he’s offering I feel they need deeper analysis or description than just the briefest of notes.


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