Queer

by William S. Burroughs

Paper Book, 1985

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : Penguin Books, 1987, c1985.

Description

Set in Mexico City during the early fifities, the story follows William Lee from bar to bar in the American expatriate scene as he pursues a young man named Allerton.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Aeyan
Decay pervades this novel. I thought it was merely that I had purchased a fairly old yet never used book and that was where the sense of decrepitude emanates, but then I realized it is the odorous imagery Burroughs' invokes of Mexico City and sundry South American locales. From the bars to the
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characters, the feeling that some elegance has been shatteringly lost, some refinement irrevocably misplaced leaks from the text. This thrilling (if noxious) interplay of word and action lends itself well to the withdrawals the main character Lee feels from heroin and also to his unquenchable lust for younger men.
I found myself fascinated by the locales visited by Lee, oddly not irritated by his cantankerous and often somewhat crude and racist commentary about people and place, but rather seeing them react only to what Lee himself was generating. It was an exercise in frustration however to watch him pine for the focused subject of his lust, his diffident conquest and later travel companion Allerton, almost as if Allerton acts as a receptacle for the withdrawal symptoms Lee experiences.
In many senses of the word, 'queer' accurately describes this novel. Recalling the historical time period that Burroughs would have used this word - before the reclamation of Queer as an identifier signifying positive difference - Lee brings blatant many of the perjorative uses for it, and also the usage as a marker of something strange or out of sorts. However, taking into account the modern use of queer as a way to positively affirm an identity outside the norm, Queer presents an unglamorous but accepting depiction of a homosexual man, never really emblazoning said queerness in neon pink letters with sparkly lights, but rather showing a sympathetic (if frequently rambling) recovering junky. The queerness of the text comes more to light in Lee's eccentricities than merely in his sexual proclivities.
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LibraryThing member wendyrey
Sort and not sweet. Thoroughly nasty book. Wish I could give negative ratings.
LibraryThing member kant1066
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Jonathan_M
I've always liked this book a lot: pound for pound, it's WSB's best effort as a novelist. And while Queer--like Junky--follows a linear narrative, it's a very different animal than its predecessor. The previous book is an observation of a phenomenon; this one is a study of loneliness and the
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painful ineptitude which dooms the main character's efforts to relieve that loneliness, and will resonate with anyone who's ever been in that position. Today, of course, the term "queer" has a specifically sociopolitical connotation, but that was not the case in the early 1950s when Burroughs wrote this novel. One does not have to be gay, nor an aficionado of gay literature, to appreciate Queer.

Burroughs became famous for the "difficult" writing of Naked Lunch and the cut-ups, and is still remembered for those experimental works today. But whenever I reread Queer, I'm reminded that he was a great conventional novelist when he wanted to be. If you crave more WSB in this vein, check out Interzone, a collection of his early short fiction. (See also William S. Burroughs Jr.'s Speed, a late minor classic in the Beat oeuvre. Billy died young and completed only two novels, but every fan of the father should read the son's work, too.)
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LibraryThing member revD
A piercing, intensely self-analytic novelette. Again a portrait of another time, but perfectly accessible because of its emotional & intellectual honesty. Burroughs served himself well by keeping 'Queer' from publication until the mid-eighties-- complete with a new introduction, it cast an eye
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backward at how society, American & otherwise, was being shaped by the internal pressures of the citizens it considered its untouchables.
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LibraryThing member Djupstrom
I know I am supposed to like William S. Burroughs for his "greatness" in literature, but I just don't get him...ever. Bad book.
LibraryThing member buzzharper
Great book. Honest and written from the heart. heart.
LibraryThing member poetontheone
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
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monologue. In the second half of the book, when the latter two elements come to the fore, the story really gains momentum.
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LibraryThing member JWarren42
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.
LibraryThing member blanderson
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
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portrait of lust as an addiction, but you can really tell that the novel wasn't completed. It ends, seemingly, halfway through a chapter.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Burroughs can be a tad difficult to understand at times. His writing is often poetic and so subject to interpretation. Essentially you often only get out of him what you are willing to put [of yourself] into his writing. He takes us on journeys into his mind, his reality. Long before the days of
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Identity Politics, he makes us think about how we are all political.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
I borrowed this from my local library. It was such a degenerate and disturbing piece of work that it was hard for me to get into it. The plot was quite simplistic as well. I had read Naked Lunch previously as an experiment and had, after, read much Kerouac and all of Ginsberg to get into Beat
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Literature. However, this was not working for me- the intensity of the degeneracy was a little too far for me to enjoy it. I did not find the narrator likeable in any means and, since the narrator is meant to represent Burroughs himself, that is not a good thing.

I found myself more interested in the introduction and appendix (the supplementary materials) than the book itself. That speaks on its own.

Nevertheless, it was a character study of a lonely, misguided, lustful, and disturbed man. I suppose that you have to take that as you will.

2 stars- not recommended.
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LibraryThing member lydia1879
So I have a tricky relationship with this book.

It's one of the first pieces of queer literature that I ever read, and I read it when I was quite young. I was hungry for representation and depiction of queer characters. I had accepted myself as a queer person and was happy, but I needed validation.

I
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think it's one of his earlier works and isn't as well-written as some of his others. I'm not sure if it's problematic or not, I would have to reread it, but I'm not sure if I will.

I'm not sure if I will because it was difficult for me to read. The self-loathing and hatred the protagonist portrays is palpable. He looks at his sexuality as a monster or an obstacle he must overcome and the book is just riddled with tension.

If I read it correctly the first time, all those years ago, this character is a partial representation of how Burroughs felt about himself.

So I don't like this book, but it'll always have a place in my heart as one of the first queer pieces of literature I read. I'm glad I read it, but this might not be the best book to pick up if you're just starting with Burroughs, or looking for some uplifting LGBTIQA fiction.
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LibraryThing member ennuiprayer
I'm not sure what to say about the book. I enjoyed far more than I did Junky, and I guess that makes me a sinner in the literary world because everyone's up in arms about that book.

I suppose the whole purpose of the book--the sort of sequel to Junky--is that once you drop the drug usage, you decide
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to have a lot of sex.

I did notice how, since these books are based on Burroughs life--he did leave out the accidental murder of his wife. I guess a lot of it had to do with regret for doing it. I'm not sure.
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LibraryThing member brakketh
Pseudo-autobiographical (or psychologically autobiographical) novel wandering around queer sexuality.
LibraryThing member thorold
In a different world, Burroughs' second book, written in 1952, could have been the next big gay-themed American novel after The city and the pillar. But it wasn't: partly because the publisher wasn't keen, partly because Burroughs had cannibalised the already-thin manuscript to bulk up the slightly
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underweight text of Junky, and also partly because he obviously became disenchanted with linear narrative whilst writing it, and wanted to experiment with other techniques. The mauled manuscript was put away and eventually mislaid, and the book didn't come out until 1985, when Burroughs had just got a new seven-book deal with a different publisher and a copy of the typescript of Queer happened to surface in an archive in Liechtenstein. By this time gay-themed novels were no longer considered shocking by most people. At least not by the sort of people likely to pick up a book by Burroughs.

Set mostly in Mexico City, the book centres around the unrequited passion of the Burroughs-character, Lee, for a younger American, Gene Allerton (in real life Lewis Marker). Lee pursues Allerton through the bars of Mexico City, and eventually persuades him to come on a quest into South America to search for the possibly mythical drug Yage, but it's clear that Allerton, whilst sometimes willing to be bought, is rather repelled than attracted by the older man. His condition for coming on the trip south is that he won't be expected to have sex with Lee more than twice a week. The narrative of the main text peters out somewhere in the rain forest, and then we see Lee in an epilogue back in Mexico City some time later, fruitlessly trying to find out where Allerton has gone.

The main interest of the book isn't really in this rather standard and dated obsession narrative, nor in the bizarrely awkward dialogues in gay bars, but rather in the "routines," the witty, surreal and very politically-incorrect monologues Lee comes out with when he's trying to deflect attention from his own problems. They are a joy, and flag the direction in which Burroughs' writing is going.
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