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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Cursed From Birth: The Short Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs Jr.

by William S. Burroughs Jr. (author), & David Ohle (Editor)  

Publisher: Soft Skull Press (October 1, 2006)

Softcover, 256 pages

Amazon Listing

“Did you answer a four-year-old child whose mother you had just murdered when he asked, ‘Where are you going?’ And I have news for you, pal, two things, as far as you and I are concerned, you have signed my death warrant. For a well-known “perceptive” man you have got to be the blindest mother going, and (2) yes it is a question of the $500. You don’t impress me a bit with all that ‘be careful’ bullshit. You could care less, and your fucking wallet is full of blood. All my life I have tried to experience you as something approaching a human being. By god in heaven, you blew it if you think a car is what’s behind this and I know you do, you only prove my point.”  
Unsent letter from William S. Burroughs Jr. to his father.
This is a hybrid novel made from an unfinished work by William S. Burroughs Jr. (originally called Prakiti Junction), interviews with his father, Allen Ginsberg, and various other friends, plus a host of correspondence to and from the author. In it, we get a snapshot of a chronically unhappy person, a serial substance abuser, a slightly successful author, and one who felt himself always in the shadow of his more famous father. That patriarchal figure being the illustrious William Burroughs of Naked Lunch fame.
William Burroughs Jr. 

Cobbled together as it is from a host of unreliable narrators, we can only get a sliver of the truth behind his life. The facts all line up, but motivations are blurred. The tensions between father and son seem to be due to a lack of communication and that seems to stem from neither of them realizing that someone else could have a different point of view. I may be wrong in this, but both were heavy substance abusers and both seemed to have the “me-me-me” characteristics commonly associated with alcoholics and junkies. Or at least the son certainly did. He seemed to possess an infantile belief that everyone should be working harder to make life easier for them.
Not that he didn't have legitimate gripes. His father shot his mother in the head when he was four, then dumped him at his grandparents- which was probably for the best. However, the author seems to use it as an excuse to do nothing with his life.
Burroughs Jr is one of those authors who is incapable of writing about anything except themselves. As such, certain portions of the text here is repeated in his other books Speed and Kentucky Ham. This is in direct contrast to his father who will expound on his opinions, but never his emotions - except here.
William Burroughs Jr & his grandfather, Mortimer Burroughs

This book gives us a new vision of Burroughs Sr.. Many claim he had no real emotional connection to his son, but that doesn't seem to be entirely true. He helped his son financially, but in the long run his son refused to help himself. Burroughs Sr. himself stated he had no idea what to do.
Perhaps the most telling letter is the final one between Burroughs Sr. and Brion Gysin. In it he mentions his son's death in the first paragraph in a matter-of-fact manner then goes into a page describing future writings and readings he has planned. This can be taken several ways. A callousness on part of the father, or a sort of relief to a long and suffering person. William S. Burroughs Jr. died at 33 of liver failure (after receiving a liver transplant).
    For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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