Written in 1952, Queer remained unprinted all these years, its publishers tell us, because of its "candid homosexual content, and. . .its author's own reluctance to make public the painful events it recounts." So now, in our latter-day age of liberation, we get to see it at last: a faded-trendy piece of 1950s hip arcana that preserves, if anything, a thin, petulant narcissism of feeling that might once upon a time have passed fleetingly for depth, however it may or may not be related to the development of the later Burroughs. Lee, American expatriate in Mexico City in the late 1940s, falls in love with the reluctant young Allerton, and, from the start, we're in for an affair that reads often now like one of the lesser forms of genre romance ("Lee watched the thin hands, the beautiful violet eyes, the flush of excitement on the boy's face"). As for feeling, we know it's deep, because the author says so, time and again, when Allerton holds back from Lee: "Lee was deeply hurt"; "Lee was depressed and shattered"; "He felt a deep hurt. . . Tears ran down his face." A ludicrous, comic-strip shorthand becomes more apparent in the narrative after Allerton agrees to serve as Lee's companion on a trip to South America, a trip that becomes a search for Yage, a thought-control drug: "'A Colombian scientist who lives in Bogota isolated Telepathine from Yage. We must find that scientist.'" Later, another clue takes them deep into the jungle: "'A botanist! What a break. He is our man. We will go tomorrow.'" What happens? The search for the drug is futile. Allerton drops Lee. Lee drifts back to Mexico City. Lee is cosmically sad. Burroughs explains in his introduction that all of this occurs while Lee is withdrawing from junk, and that's one reason (read the introduction to find out the other) why "a smog of menace and evil rises from the pages" of the book. It's a good thing he mentions the smog, so you'll be sure to notice it when you go back; what Burroughs doesn't do, though, is say much about why the book now reads so artificial, posed, thin, contrived, and silly, albeit with some effective travelogue footage. First printing of 30,000. Certainly more than enough.
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