LITERARY OUTLAW: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan

LITERARY OUTLAW: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From biographies of FDR and Churchill to Somerset Maugham and, here, William Burroughs--Morgan's biographical interests certainly demonstrate range. And, in this case, he manages to convince readers who aren't Burroughs enthusiasts to reassess this most strange and unpleasant literary figure. Burroughs, grandson of the perfecter of the modern adding machine, hungered after the kinds of experience denied him in his bourgeois youth in St. Louis. Imprudent business decisions meant there was no family fortune, though Burroughs' parents continued to underwrite his largely dissolute life for 25 of his post-Harvard years. Given the evidence elegantly set forth here, Burroughs' parents were probably glad to pay just to keep him away. And wander their son did, always one step ahead of the law: N.Y.C., where he hooked up with Kerouac and Ginsberg; Texas, where this heroin addict tried farming; New Orleans, where this confirmed homosexual lived with his speed-freak wife and their doomed child; Mexico City, where, playing William Tell, this gun lover put a bullet through his spouse's head; Columbia, where this thrill-seeker hunted for new hallucinogenic highs; Tangier, where this aimless middle-aged junkie indulged his taste for handsome boys; and Paris, where this profligate father discovered his greatest addiction--to writing. Soon Burroughs' bibliography caught up to his rap sheet, but the high point would always remain Naked Lunch (first published in 1959)--a raw and unflinching novel of manic insight, paranoid wit, and postapocalyptic humor. ""A book worm aspiring to be a man of action,"" Burroughs often retreated from his late-life fame into a miasma of drugs, booze, and occultism. Lionized as ""the Grand Old Man of the counterculture"" during the 60's and 70's, Burroughs entertained rock stars and hangers-on who continue to pay homage to this day, with Burroughs back in St. Louis, a respectable figure of a most peculiar sort. In Morgan's capable hands, Burroughs' wicked life more than rivals his perverse art.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt