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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (William Burroughs)

By Jack Kerouac & William S. Burroughs

Publisher: Grove Press (2008)

Hardcover 224 pages

Finished 2/20/2017

Amazon Listing 

          “Just at the alcove to the right of the balcony, there is usually a group of fags hanging around, looking half of the time at the picture and the rest of the time along the balcony seats for any good prospects. They were standing there giving us the side glance as we came up the stairs, when Phillip ran up to the sand jar and began holding the macaroni to his fly and shaking it in the sand, so that it looked like he was pissing diffusely into the sand jar. The fags glided away like crayfish.”
William S. Burroughs
          The long lost collaboration novel of the two fathers of the Beat literary movement, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, finally in print since it was first written in 1945. This is the Gospel of Judas equivalent for beat readers, and is just as disappointing.
          Essentially this is a first draft of Kerouac’s first published book, The Town and the City, containing many similar elements and focusing on the real life murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr (who went on to become an important editor for UPI). This seems to be a trope that Kerouac returns to over and over again in his writing. His personal involvement in the case (he was held as a material witness for several weeks), may be why it clung so heavily to his mind.
          The title apparently refers a news report that the pair had overheard while in a bar one night, about a circus that had caught on fire. The line that caught Burroughs’s ear was the reporter saying “And the hippos were boiled in their tanks.”  This possibly may have been the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, & Bailey circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944, known colloquially as “the day the clowns cried” where the main tent caught fire and close to 165 people died.
Jack Kerouac
          There is a reason why the book wasn’t published until 2008. It is by far the blandest writing I have read from either of these two authors. Each take turns writing a chapter from a different character’s first person’s perspective and they both feel like the same character. Neither of the protagonists are distinguishable, all of the characters are flat, none of them are interesting. You simply do not care at all about anything that is happening and the action isn’t outrageous enough to keep the reader interested. Everything that is going on is dull, unless I guess you were one of the people mention in the text. By the time the murder happens, when it finally happens, it is almost a non-event. The narrators seem to feel nothing and  you are left with a shrug.
          It isn’t badly written, but it is below par for most literature. There is no trace of the future literary masterpieces that would pour from their pens. It is a dull flat affair. If you were to tell someone back in 1945 that these two writers would define a literary genre, no one would have believed you.  This book is for Burroughs or Kerouac completionists only.

           For more readings, try my collection of books. 

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