Queer

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Queer
by William S. Burroughs
Difficulty: Medium
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Blurb from Queer’s Amazon page:

“For more than three decades, while its writer’s world fame increased, Queer remained unpublished because of its forthright depiction of homosexual longings. Set in the corrupt and spectral Mexico City of the forties, Queer is the story of William Lee, a man afflicted with both acute heroin withdrawal and romantic and sexual yearnings for an indifferent user named Eugene Allerton. The narrative is punctuated by Lee’s outrageous “routines” — brilliant comic monologues that foreshadow Naked Lunch —yet the atmosphere is heavy with foreboding.

In his extraordinary introduction, Burroughs reflects on the shattering events in his life that lay behind this work.”

Where to start with Queer? It’s a short novel originally written as a loose sequel (though it can be read alone) to Burrough’s 1953 debut novel Junkie, because publishers thought the latter was too short and uninteresting on its own. But Queer wouldn’t be published until 1985 as American censorship laws likely would have prevented it before then. On the surface it’s a typical, semi-autobiographical story of an author/protagonist lusting after an unobtainable young man, but there’s something raw about this one. You could even say that it’s self-hating, which may be because it was written right after Burroughs accidently murdered his wife. Lee is narcissistic, self-centered, and overtly lecherous, and Burroughs makes no moves to justify or excuse any of it. It’s like he’s saying: ‘Look at this pathetic, disgusting old man (Burroughs was almost 40 when writing this). Isn’t he vile? Who could ever love him? Doesn’t he deserve what he gets?’

So why should you read this? Well, honestly it’s not for everyone. It’s not very graphic or explicit, and it doesn’t give that soul-crushing depression vibe that older gay literature can. Even if Burroughs is intentionally exposing himself to ridicule, Lee’s perspective is still authentic. It’s still a story raw homosexual desire, and it’s still interesting from that point of view. And I find it a bit fascinating to watch a man hate himself, but I’m a voyeur in that way. It’s short and easy to read, and maybe it’s that plainness that would have gotten it censored. Naked Lunch was written in the same decade and was very explicit, but it was all filtered through the hallucinatory paranoia which made the novel famous. It’s always funny to see what is and isn’t okay that way. Anyway, it’s still an early work by a famous gay author, so anyone interested in gay history and culture should give it a shot.