Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch. New York: Grove Press, 1959.
Reason read: let’s see if this train of thought makes sense: Jack Kerouac was born in March. Burroughs hung with Kerouac. Burroughs + Kerouac = Naked Lunch in March.
I was not around during the height of the Beat Generation’s rein. Oddly enough, beat writers were avoided during my educational career. Not on purpose, though. I wasn’t assigned Kerouac or Ginsburg or Burroughs in high school or college so I didn’t read them. As a result, reading Naked Lunch made me feel sort of crazy. Like riding on a roller coaster backwards. This is brilliant, for there is no real plot to speak of; you bounce from vignette to vignette of chaotic satire and drug & sex fueled imagination. The text is punctuated by copious notes explaining different things, but do the explanations really matter? No. Not really. It’s a fun ride if you are okay with not knowing where you are going. You need to be comfortable naming body parts like cunt, dick and asshole (those things are in use a lot). You must be okay with all things putrid, bloody, stinking, infected and/or rotting. You definitely need to be tolerant of rampant drug use, vivid homosexual/heterosexual lovemaking and rape and copious suicidal tendencies and other deliveries of violence. In other words, have an open mind and just go with it. You won’t regret the ride. Or maybe you will. I don’t know.
For the serious, need-to-know types, the semblance of a plot goes like this: Willie Lee is a drug addict who has tried every narcotic under the sun in an attempt to find his true identity. [And speaking of identity, off topic, here is a sampling of the characters in Naked Lunch: Shake Man, Paregoric Kid, Eager Beaver, and Old Bart.] But back to the plot, Willie Lee travels from New York to Tangier and ultimately to the nightmarescape of Interzone to find himself.
Another fun exercise I had was to list all the real and imaginary places Burroughs mentioned in Naked Lunch:
- Addis Ababa
- East River
- Hong Kong
- Kansas City
- Lake Charles
- Lincoln Park
- Los Angeles
- Mexico City
- New Orleans
- New York
- Pigeon Hole
- Sioux Falls
- South Pacific
- St Louis
- Tierra de Fuego
- Washington Square
[Benign] quotes to make you think (or not): “Catnip smells like marijuana when it burns” (p 5), “Scalpel fight with a colleague in the operating room” (p 26), and “Traffickers in the Black Meat, flesh of the giant aquatic black centipede – sometimes attaining a length of six feet- found in a lane of ricks and iridescent, brown lagoons, exhibit paralyzed crustaceans in camouflaged pockets of the Plaza visible only to the Meat Eaters” (p 45).
Here’s something a little less safe, “The screaming skull rolls up to the back stairs to bite the cock of erring husband taking dour advantage of his wife’s earache to do that which is inconvenient” (p 110).
Author fact: If you know anything about Burroughs and his life you know I could be here all day listing interesting and horrible tidbits about him. Here are a few of the more G-rated and mundane details: Burroughs suffered from depression, he was bisexual, had a drug problem (duh), and died the day after suffering a heart attack.
Book trivia: touted as one of the most important books of the century, it is also listed as one of the 1001 books you must read before you die. It was made into a movie in 1991.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beats and Their Generation” (p 18).