114 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What you see is what you get...
Most serious readers have experienced a Beat phase in their reading careers...or should. Mine mainly centred on the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg with a spat of McClure and Burroughs thrown in for good measure. Through the years ~Junky~ would make an appearance, however the opportunity never presented itself to crack its covers. The book would manfest from time to time,...
Published on March 5, 2002 by C. Middleton
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but still powerful
Originally published as a "pulp novel" (its lurid cover showing a man grabbing a voluptuous blonde from behind, drug paraphernalia strewn on a table in front of them), Burroughs's first full-length work of fiction and its Hemingway-style noir prose are quite unlike his more famous nonlinear works. The book was so shocking for its time (1953) that its publisher censored...
Published on January 20, 2003 by D. Cloyce Smith
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114 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What you see is what you get...,
Most serious readers have experienced a Beat phase in their reading careers...or should. Mine mainly centred on the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg with a spat of McClure and Burroughs thrown in for good measure. Through the years ~Junky~ would make an appearance, however the opportunity never presented itself to crack its covers. The book would manfest from time to time, simply to remind me that it still existed. I finally read ~Junky~ last week and it blew me away.
Despite the fact that William S. Burroughs has been thrown into the Beat literati, ~Junky~ doesn't seem to fit. The book is a one off, an important artefact of history - a testimony to an unfortunate human predicament and a way of life that is all too real; and societies ignorance, intolerance and exploitation of the condition, and its continued hypocrisy.
What I found interesting is that nothing has really changed since ~Junky~ was first published two generations ago. Drug addiction is still a 'moral issue' for a lot of people, including the addiction to alcohol. To be fair, as a society, we've probably made a little progress in the last fifty years, in terms of our understanding and treatment of drugs, but there is still a long way to go.
William Lee, a middle class, educated individual of relative privilege, tells the story of his introduction to junk, subsequent addiction and his on-going hellish relationship with the demon. This testimony is not a posing, romantic portrayal of a hip drug user, living an artistic, bohemian existence amongst poets, painters and musicians, all creating great works of art and having a wonderful time. ~Junky~ is an honest account concerning the 'vicious circle' of addiction, and the many attempts by those afflicted to escape the circle, but once you're in it, there's really no getting out - entirely.
In fact it was Burroughs who coined the phrase:
"Once a junky always a junky." And this is the tragedy.
After closing the book, I had a eerie feeling that I was holding something important in my hands. It ceased to be merely a book and became something else...a relic of a bygone era, its peculiar venacular, attitudes, dreams and nightmares. I believe it would be a mistake to include this book in any literary category for it stands alone, without pretence or device...because with ~Junky~ what you see is what you get.
62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Junky: a commonly misinterpreted work of brilliance,
By A Customer
Junky is the kind of novel that you cannot read until you abandon all pretenses. Forget for a moment that this was Burroughs' first book, put aside the fact that he was himself a junky, and put your personal opinions of drug use and abuse, as well as Burroughs himself, on hold. The attempt made by Junky as a piece of art is to honestly and fairly put forward an in-depth look at a side of American life that was virtually overlooked until its publication. The novel delves very deeply into a world that, though many would rather ignore it all together, has gotten progressively worse to this day.
Junky offers a detailed account of a drug addict's entrance into the seedy underworld, his daily search for a fix, the shady characters he must rely on, and the suffering he experiences while trying to fix himself. The purpose is to fully immerse the reader in the world of a man engulfed in addiction.
The hero is actually an intelligent man, who immediately recognizes the risk taken in his experiments with narcotics. He also realizes, although a little too late, the fact that he has become an addict himself, and now needs the drug for basic survival. He is also rational. He recognizes his dismal circumstances, but also recognizes his guilt in the matter, and in no way tries to gain sympathy from the reader. The hero is aware of what he has done to himself, and does nothing to deny his responsibility.
Junky in no way glamorizes drug use; on the contrary, in the sections that describe heroin as appealing, Burroughs is showing the immeasurable control the drug has quietly acquired over the user, distorting the addict's perception of what is happening to him.
Junky pulls the reader into a dark underworld of society and depicts a man's struggle to regain his life, or what's left of it after the plague of addiction is eliminated. Burroughs holds nothing back. He uses a method of detailing the more shocking parts of the hero's experiences with a calm and almost casual frankness. This slowly makes them seem less disturbing, and introduces the reader more and more to the addicts point of view. Burroughs even attempts to alter the reader's point of view, subtly bringing the reader closer to the mind of the junky, and eventually creating an unexpected affection for a seemingly unlovable character, who appears to have very little about him that is redeeming. You begin to care for this lost, pathetic man, as you watch him attempt cure after cure, method after method, finally having to flee the country to avoid prosecution. The reader can do nothing but look on, as each good intention crumbles, making the hero more and more incapable of escaping the grip of the addiction.
Burroughs states many times the degree of influence heroin has over the addict, illustrating how all other activities become less like life and more like a limbo of nothingness between scores. The junky's life is consumed. His days become more and more about scoring, leaving less and less room for anything else. By the time the hero becomes aware of having a problem, it is too late, he has become a slave to the drug. He doesn't need the heroin to simply get high; he needs the heroin because he cannot survive without it. Burroughs states the difference between other drugs, which are about the high they induce, and heroin: "Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life."
There are no hidden intentions in Junky. It does not aspire to create a greater sympathy for drug addicts, nor does it make any gallant attempts at scaring away potential users. Junky has no agenda, good or bad, for its influence in the world. It simply lays out the facts, leaving them for the reader to do what they want with them. The novel is a clear, concise, and direct journey into the mind and world of a man diseased, told in brutally honest narration, without a hint of shame or pity.
This is, in my opinion, a worthy piece of literature to invest the time into reading, not only for a Burroughs fan, but for any reader who enjoys thought-provoking subject-matter and stories containing complex and intriguing characters. Basically, anyone who appreciates well-written fiction has the ability to appreciate the dark, subtle wit and stark, desperate tone of Junky, as long as they read it with an open mind. It is a chronicle, a picture, a record of a dark way of life. And as that, it succeeds.
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic of the underground,
Burroughs' first book is an autobiographical tale of how he first came to try heroin and his travels across North America as, to paraphrase the author, junk became his life. To those who know Burroughs as only the writer of Naked Lunch, the straight-forward and precise prose of Junky may come as a surprise at first but, upon careful reading, all the same concerns and motifs are here. Basically, Junky tells what was happening in the real world while Burroughs was hallucinating the junk-fueled world of Naked Lunch. While it may deceptively appear to have no real structure, its meandering style instead perfectly embodies the drug-fueled lifestyle of its protaganist. Its a fascinating read that reveals that, despite beliefs to the contrary, there has always been a drug underground in the United States where junkies remain easy scapegoats for other societal problems. While Burroughs does't condemn drug use, he can hardly be accused of promoting it either. Instead, in the best libertarian tradition, he promotes only the freedom of the individual to be able to determine his own fate.
However, beyond any possible political or philosophical interpretations, this is a fast-moving, informative book with a dry wit hidden amongst the deadpan prose. What is often forgotten is that Burroughs' first known stories were all parodies of other genres and in many ways, Junky is a dead-on imitation of the hardboiled, pulp novels that were also prominent at the time.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you haven't read this book, you haven't read at all....,
A taste of self destruction....William S. Burrough's greatest book ever. A hard look into the life of an opiate addict based on the life of the author itself. It should be praised for it's realism and honesty, as it was written in a time when drugs should not have exsisted. Burroughs tells it all, and tells it like it is. Junky paints the sad life of a Junky perfectly, and still manages to throw in the classic black humor that made Burroughs famous. This is one book everyone should read, own, and reread....
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective,
This review is from: Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk" (50th Anniversary Edition) (Paperback)
When one reads books or articles on drug use, they usually boil down to either being in strong favor of the effects of drugs, or an attempt to convince others that drugs will ruin your life.
This book, however, is a blaring exception.
Drawing from personal experience in the junkie world, Burroughs creates a fresh insight into the junkie world. How things operate and why the things that happen go on.
Perhaps the most interesting of anything in the book is the first appendix, the 28th chapter (which was taken out for the original edition). Here Burroughs presents a hypothesis of his. He connects the purpose of opium in plants to the effects of opium in humans and sheds light to a truly interesting theory.
Rarely am I as enthused and captivated by a book like I was when I read "Junky".
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars junky not junkie,
I read this book at least two years ago and it opened my eyes to things I did not even know existed. I was only 16 and had read other stories of drug addiction, but nothing touched me like this story. The story is such a sad tale and tells you of what weak persons we are - all of us! To me, it is something everyone should read. It gives you a better understanding of drug addicts and why they do things they do. Before reading this book, I had a very low opinion of addicts and could never understand why they did the things they did. Having known one or two didn't help me as much as the book did. Stealing, suffering, and sordid sexual encounters are just a few of the things these people encounter on their hard journey through life. I would recommend this book to everyone!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but still powerful,
Originally published as a "pulp novel" (its lurid cover showing a man grabbing a voluptuous blonde from behind, drug paraphernalia strewn on a table in front of them), Burroughs's first full-length work of fiction and its Hemingway-style noir prose are quite unlike his more famous nonlinear works. The book was so shocking for its time (1953) that its publisher censored portions of the writing and peppered it with parenthetical disclaimers. The book starkly tells the story, based largely on Burroughs's own experiences, of the life of a junky--or, more accurately, how a junky's life revolves around nothing but junk.
While the book is disquieting and dispassionate--and it's certainly more accessible than Burroughs's other works--it is interesting more as a historical document rather than a literary treasure. Much of the book (and not simply, as others have pointed out, the language) is dated. We, as readers, have become somewhat immune to such portrayals, and the shock value and aesthetic appeal of Burroughs's debut has been diminished over time by not only the works of other authors but also his own later works.
The book's narrative is too disjointed to feel like a "novel," in part because Burroughs is so didactic. He correctly assumes that readers in the 1950s will know little if anything about drug culture, and his narrative is interrupted by lecture-like sections. While he pulls no punches in his bleak depiction of addiction, he boasts some acutely ill-informed opinions (for example, his claim that cocaine is not addictive: "once the C [cocaine] is out of your system, you forget all about it. There is no habit to C.")
And "Junky" should not be read as entirely accurate autobiography. Although Burroughs never glamorizes addiction or its effects, his narrative does embark on an extraordinary episode of wishful thinking. During a particularly nasty binge in Mexico City, his wife intervened, throwing his spoon and drugs on the floor; in retaliation, he "slapped her twice across the face." In the book, a few days later they separated, and she was living happily in Acapulco. In real life, however, during a similar dispute, Burroughs shot and killed Joan Vollmer--an event that damaged his reputation and haunted his reasoning for the rest of his years.
Yet, in spite of its obsolete style and its disjointed narrative, its didacticism and its half-truths, "Junky" is still a powerful reminder of the monomania of addiction.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A more constructed book than people here are letting on....,
Junky is a first hand tale of one man's life and drug addiction. It is a show of a slide into a world that most of its readers will never experience. It was something that at its time. immensely shocking. Beside these things, it is a really compelling tale and a wholly worthwhile read.....
BUT it is also a book that is of a tradition: Burrough's was largely borrowing the style and tone of the French author Louis-Ferdinand Celine (i.e. straight ahead, haunting, almost profane at every instance, black humor at its finest). Even though the author was a drug addict, he was a HIGHLY erudite and educated drug addict-- and because of that, the bitterness of his life is interpretted in a way that comes from a man who was influenced by the doom of Celine and the historian Spengler (another must-read) as well as the sort of devil-may-care attitude of Andre Gide....
Intellectual name dropping aside, this is a powerful book artistically BECAUSE of this stuff, the D.A.R.E. message aside (and I would suggest that other instances from his life-- shooting his wife in the head while playing William Tell foremost among them hint at a D.A.R.E. message better than the almost Trainspotting cinema-veritas stuff of this book). And it's a neat counterpoint to the writings of Kerouac for anyone who wants to run the 'Beats' together (but an interesting counterpart to Ginsberg-- who was, in a sense, Burrough's student as much as Lionel Trilling's....
I'd read this book.... it's good....
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Junky - Its real,
Junky is a novel i can relate to. The story Burroughs writes is not about heroin; sure, most of the characters are smack addicts but more importantly they are just addicts. I tried to read Naked Lunch by the same author a couple of years ago but had to finish on about the third page. For someone with an experience of the seedy world of drugs, Burroughs writing can be disturbing. I suppose if i was still on drugs while i tried reading Naked Lunch it may have seemed glamorous. That is the brilliance of Burroughs. He was a junky until he died - from morphine to smack to methadone. For an addict, life is junk. So in a sense, Burroughs does write a story about junk - he writes a story about life. Yet, not only the life of an addict; Junky is the tale of a journey. A man who needs to escape the meaningless existence of a junk virgin. Of course, not everyone will agree, maybe you never touched junk, maybe your life is full of existence, maybe you believe in God or get off on sky diving or whatever i dont know. I loved this book because in gets inside my head. The late William Burroughs sticks his hand through the covers, throttles me around the neck. "Read the ****** book, feel my pain, get off your lazy behind at live life..." I am an arrogant nasty man, i have a zest for suffering. I dont even bother picking up a book unless its going to make me work. I hate life and so did Burroughs; if there is a God and there is a Heaven, he doesnt like me and he doesnt like Burroughs, both of us are going to hell. Please dont feel sorry for this great man, and dont believe for a second that there is a moral to the story. I didnt use drugs for any particular reason but the way i used was destructive - an addict by definition is a bad person. It makes me laugh just to say that because i always try to convince myself its not true. All the same i may ask, what is bad and what is good. How can you judge me, why do i judge Burroughs. But the truth is, we all feel hatred - Life sucks. Go ol' Will' knew all this and thats why he kept sticking needles in his arms and drinking methadone till he found a better place. He was too unsure, he was afraid but accordingly to the rules we all lay down, he was a bad person. He was a user, not just of drugs but of people, he was a manipulator. He was a married man and didnt mention his wife but once in the whole novel. He was a self centered, arrogant, nasty piece of work - He was real - Burroughs was a real man and he was a damn fine writer...Sanity is the great barrier to fine art. Junky is a fine novel; a portrayl of a good, honest man living in a world of labels and regulations. You say he was insane, you that will read this review and hate me for wasting your time. And that guy over there and the girl across the sea, far, far away...they both think, wow...i really want to buy that book. Thanks Jason...your awesome. JUNKY - Its real.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a highly addictive read,
In "Naked Lunch," William S. Burroughs used hallucinations, sexuality, and nightmarish imagery to string along a 'plot' that was anything but traditional. While I found the book to be a gripping, thought-provoking read, I was downright surprised at the clear-headedness of "Junky," which is essentially a window into the life of a heroin user, circa early 1950s. Burroughs (as Bill Lee) illustrates his descent into addiction, from his first fix up until his habit builds to staggering proportions; the descriptions of a junkie's daily routine, from shaking down drunks in train stations to eluding police, are done using precise dialogue that incorporates a considerable amount of slang (an informative glossary is included in the book). "Junky" is a hypnotically engrossing read, a book that sucks you into the world of addiction and leaves you clamoring for more.
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Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk" (50th Anniversary Edition) by William Burroughs (Paperback - April 1, 2003)
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