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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Junky (1953) by William Burroughs

Original cover of  Junky by William Burroughs
Book Review
Junky (1953)
by William Burroughs

    It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that there are multiple similarities between my reading habits and the drug taking habits of a heroin addict.  Like a heroin addict, I'm constantly forced to search for books.  This entire project is an attempt to at least blunt the endless quest for new material.  Unlike a heroin addict, I don't usually have to pay for books, thank god for libraries.  I read Junky by William Burroughs for the first time in high school and since then I've re-read it on several occasions, to the point where I actually remember lines and passages from the book in quieter moments.

    In high school  Burroughs and his beat cohorts served as literary inspiration for several years of experimentation with various substances. I was always partial to Burroughs as compared to Kerouac or Ginsberg.  Something about his icy aloofness and detachment from his surroundings.  Burroughs was famously the scion of the family whose patriarch invented the Burroughs adding machine.  In later years this became the foundation of his screeds against "power" and "technology" and it's invasive role in American life.  He was quite prophetic in this regard, anticipating decades of counter-culture and living long enough to see himself proved right about almost everything he held dear.

  Junky was his first published work, and as you can see from the cover above, it was not published as literature, but rather as a cheap exploitation novel, paired with a second book written from the perspective of a narcotics interdiction agent.  Junky actually traces the emergence of the anti-drug hysteria in America.  By the end, the Burroughs character is getting ready to depart Mexico City for points south, and he shares with the reader the passage of many of the first wave of anti-drug laws which would wreak so much havoc on the lives of users and dealers.

  Unlike his later works, there is nothing experimental about Junky.  It's a straight forward narrative about a guy like Burroughs who likes his drugs.  In order to afford his drugs, he has to commit crimes, either rolling drunks on the subway or dealing drugs.  Although Junky is often a departure point for those who go on to use drugs, it's hard to call Junky a romantic obscuring of Junky reality.  Quite the opposite in fact,  Junky gives the reader the straight dope on the life and times of a hard core heroin addict, and it this fundamentally accurate take on the emerging counter culture that accounts for its enduring power.

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