Junky by William S. Burroughs
Reviewed by Steve Rudd
Where to start with a man of William's legendary literary standing?
Born in 1914, in his own time he came to be regarded as one of the most
important American writers of the Sixties Beat generation - during which
time his writing was revered in the same way that the work of
Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg was.
Junky is one of Burroughs' most well-known books which
graphically recounts some of his experiences with drugs, drugs and more drugs.
I guess nobody will ever really know how much of Junky is true
to his life through and through, but some of the drug-induced feelings and
scenarios that he describes have to have come from personal experience.
Burroughs guides us through a whole plethora of highs and lows, recounting
how his drug addiction gradually took hold of his lifestyle... and how it
ultimately came to dominate his life.
Some people you can spot as far as you can see; others you can't be sure of
until you are close enough to touch them. Junkies are mostly in sharp focus.
When you are on the junk, the pusher is like the loved one to the lover.
You wait for his special step in the hall, his special knock, you scan the
approaching faces on a city street.
While the majority of the narrative does revolve whole-heartedly
around the extents to which he went in order to score drugs,
Junky can also be tangentially compared to the work of
Jack Kerouac in the sense that Junky does simultaneously
focus on time that Burroughs spent in various towns and cities both in the
USA (such as New Orleans, which is exquisitely brought to the boil
courtesy of his flawlessly descriptive writing) and Mexico. Indeed,
Burroughs did do much travelling during his life, and also spent time
living in Paris and London.
Despite his intense periods of drug use (or misuse), Burroughs -
perhaps somewhat miraculously - lived until 1997.
He very often came off drugs and vowed to give up completely, never to
touch any form of junk ever again... but such periods of time when drugs
didn't have any room in his life always seem to be have been short-lived.
When you give up junk, you give up a way of life.
The question is, is a drug-dependent life the type of life you want to live?
For every good vibe-verified 'high,' in this 'junky' there is always
a gruelling 'low' to match.
So, if I were you, I'd much rather get hooked on the writing of
William S. Burroughs than the drugs that inspired so much of such bounty.
(First published in 1953; this edition published in 2002 by Penguin Classics)
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