CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT by William S. Burroughs

CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT

A Boy's Book
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Burroughs worked over ten years on this novel, we're told; it's being touted as a companion-piece worthy of Naked Lunch. In fact, however, the book is a dud: ponderous, self-anesthetized, full of pursy anarcho-pietisms and tennis-shoe philosophy--and (most disappointing of all) not at all funny. Dedicated to "the nameless gods of dispersal and emptiness," the novel has three major, interwoven parts: the story of the Cities of the Red Night, ur-Sodoms in the Gobi desert in which hanging seems to be the general pastime; a mock-detective story featuring (as in Naked Lunch) Clem Snide, a "private asshole" on the trail of disappeared boys who turn out to have been infected with a radiation virus that leads to a sex/death obsession (this theme, involving hanging and orgasms and soul transference, amounts only to a large portion of neo-Reichian crackpottery); and a flashed-back scenario involving utopian/anarchist pirates in the early 18th century fighting for liberty and equality and opium addiction. Burroughs' ever-present "wild boys" scamper all over, their pants eternally sticking out at the fly and their eyes boiling over with silver spots of lust; they romp through each of the three plot strands, copulating and stringing each other up. In sum, it's a sad come-down for a writer whose early books contained great measures of nihilistic surprise and vaudeville. All of that seems to be gone now, alas, leaving only a dry schist of pornographic semi-moralism so flavorlessly numbing that we can't really imagine it offending puritans. . . or interesting readers of any persuasion whatsoever.
Pub Date: March 9th, 1981
Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1981




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