Queer by William S. Burroughs – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Queer is an unreciprocated love story, in which the protagonist Lee craves love and attention from a young American by the name of Eugene Allerton.
Set in the American ex-pat scene of hedonistic, lawless 1940s Mexico, the first half of the story centres around a number of bars and gay joints where Lee spends his days, drinking, drug-taking and going through set routines, whereby he attempts to regale his audience with intellectualness and bizarre humour.
Later in the book Lee persuades Allerton with the aid of a financial incentive to join him on a journey to South America in search of yage, an elusive drug purported to have telepathic qualities. The trip finds the sensitive Lee clasping at rare moments of tenderness, suffering from opiate sickness and longing for young boys observed along the way.
Autobiographical in nature, the book is an account of Burroughs’s life in Mexico, during a troubled time in his life shortly after accidentally shooting wife Joan Vollmer dead. Self-deprecating throughout, Burroughs adeptly portrays a deep sense of longing and loss, oftentimes amplified by withdrawal and junk sickness. Though Queer’s subject matter was extremely controversial at the time it was written, the homosexual encounters are not delved into in great detail and the descriptions are not as explicit and lurid as in some of the author’s other books.
Queer is an excellent introduction to Burroughs’s writing, in part because it is more coherent than much of his later experimental work, such as The Naked Lunch.