on March 11, 2001
At fourteen I read The Wild Boys and was completely in awe of William S. Burroughsgenius without knowing that others in the world were aware of his genius. Though disturbed and horrified by his imagery of a violent world of homosexual renegade boys, it did not tempt me to judge his work as merely pornographic or solely for those of prurient interests. As soon as I could find a source for procuring "The Naked Lunch"(a local Baptist college!), I tried to read it with the same expectations. Although certainly The Naked Lunch was an excellent work, I was disappointed, for I felt it never even came close in scope or power. Even years later, after having read quite a few of Burroughs books, I feel The Wild Boys to be unsurpassed in the Burroughsian Ouvre! When one of his works proves me wrong, I will write another review. Until then, reader beware, this book will change you, and maybe not for the better. But you will not remain neutral,for certain!
on December 29, 2004
Burroughs is basically a love-him-or-leave-him writer. Using a slightly more lucid version of his "cut-up" style, The Wild Boys is a book about a group of, well, wild boys rising up in the face of a very oppressive society. Yes, there is lots of sex, most of it homosexual, but once past that Burroughs shows some interesting sociological insight. Burroughs is a satirist at heart, and in this case he is clearly on the Boys' side as he tries to "expose" the bedroom lives of the Moral Majority. However, Wild Boys brings more with a clear message to rebel against these oppressive forces and enjoy life.
We begin the book with glimpses of the corruption of the oppressing classes in a fantastical estate resembling a strange Neverland ranch. Rich people are invited to a long stay by the host where they eat, hangglide, and have sex. The starving masses are locked outside and taunted by the estate staff.
Then, we move on to the Boys' who also have their own bizzare society, but Burroughs tries hard to write it in a much more positive light. Ritualistic and spiritual, the Boys band together and fight back for their freedom.
Burroughs adds some interesting styles to the mix. Color plays a huge role and are often used to describe characters and places. Many times whole pages are nothing more than the same passage in slightly different variations written repeatedly. Sometimes these experimentations are interesting, other times they are tiresome. The plot, such as it is, starts and stops throughout the book. Some of the chapters are quite lucid and describe the war between the millitary and the Wild Boy tribes; other chapters, and the basic theme in these repeats, deal only with a few characters as they throw caution to the wind and succumb to their homosexual desires.
While this may not be the best Burroughs novel I've read, it's certainly memorable. There is a lot to discover here, but some may not be willing to wade through the uneven style or sex to find it.
on May 3, 1998
After reading Burroughs' more famous novel, Naked Lunch, I was interested but disappointed. Burroughs was much too high when he wrote it and many parts an incoherant. However, the lucid intervals were very well written and I wanted to read a book he wrote when he was more in control. The Wild Boys is that book. A poignant masterpiece that will push anyone who reads close to tears. Far better than Naked Lunch, anyone who thinks Burroughs was a one-trick pony should read it.
on January 4, 2002
I was trying to refrain from doing a Burroughs review 'cause Burroughs is brilliant and there would just be too much to talk about and if I simplified it it would sound like the other reviews and then this would be a big whammpit-sized waste of time right. In saying that pointless phrase I mastered the art of stream-of-conciousness, something William Seward Burroughs is renowned or. I must say, WSB was a big influence on my lyrical style that is in my music...I only have 5 of his books and have read Cities Of THe Red Night, but those alone only grasp part of his chaotic journey in literature. Alright, enough blabbering in hero worship, something the man himself was against...
Although mellowed and not as controversial as previous books, THe Wild Boys is still truly awesome. The main plot when there is one centers around a variety of boys from all around the globe joining together (often engaging in destructive homosexual imagery, which WSB explains in vivid detail) and devising up beautiful if primative ways of tearing down the system and preparing for the cataclysmic wave of catharsis that is apocalypse. Nothing Burroughs writes can come to any real good. He;s not trying to make the world a better more peaceful place, he's trying to come to terms with the varied forms of violence and insanity inside all of us, and essentially creating something that transcends all boundaries and leaves out practically nothing. He's a literary genius and packs so many lucid descriptions of his mesmeric apocalyptic world and the wild people that inhibit it, but can also rise from these often free flowing images to produce feircely dark humour (Something seen more so in Naked Lunch, you can pick your finger at random sections and find something any morbid mind will laugh with.)
Amusing sections of THE Wild Boys include extremely religious covenant where the nuns control their paritioners with drugs and retardation techniques, while the head nun has frequent visions of "Jesus with ..."; a densely packed and hypocritical aristocratic party that lasts a whole month and includes every single thing you could want from the fanciest food to almost all forms of sexual taboos, while the poor outside starve to death...that part leaves Burroughs contradicting himself which is frequent in his universe, loving the uncontrolled nature of things but having a soft spot for the victims of it.
Some of the most beautiful chapters include "The Dead Child", which starts out with the narrative of an unwanted asumed poor misfit which leads through twists and turns to the narrative of ancient (now long forgotten) Indians fleeing their diseased city and eventually becoming ghosts prowling the jungle and engaging in phantom sex (something which is explained more so elsewhere in the book); "THe Miracle Of THe Rose" (which sounds like some church Christmas special) shows a few wild boys heading in the land of the blue silence and into a rose-colored book which seems to alter reality; the last chapter is pretty lucid as well, wild boys roaming through ruined suburbs in a strange, seemingly copacetic relationship while breaking into houses and stealing whatever. Too much goodness. Alot of characters like to smile too, as seen in the titles;;;"THe Penny Arcade Peep Show" sections show the stream-of-conciousness/free association process nicely.
Simply, no WSB fans should be without this book. ....
I was something of an innocent when I read The Wild Boys and it gave me nightmares. The staccato, choppy plot is too disjointed to ever really allow anything to come to a close so the images tend to remain in some vestibule of the brain and come spilling out at night when your poor consciousness tries to form them into some kind of completeness.
The images themselves are sometimes gruesome and you can almost sense Burroughs' lunatic energy and all his wild imaginings spilling out on the page and being herded-somewhat unsuccessfully- into the form of a novel. Some people will have trouble with the homosexual imagery, but almost everyone will be haunted to some extent by the casual eroticization of death and cruelty-I think the Mayan sequences are some of the most persistent.
But this is not mere incoherent pornography, there is a wild, energetic beauty and an almost religious devotion to wontonly intense experience that is-along with WSB's poetic style-unforgettable.
Lynn Hoffman, author of the much-less disturbing bang BANG: A Novel and the downright soothing New Short Course in Wine,The
on April 14, 2001
The back cover of my copy describes Wild Boys as 'an apocalyptic vision of global warefare' so I can understand one of the previous reviewer's surprise at finding the story populated by scantily-clad, homosexual boys. I wouldn't recommend this for first time Burroughs readers. Don't get me wrong - Wild Boys is an interesting read. In it you'll find some conventional narrative alongside examples of Burroughs' surrealist 'cut up' technique. It's hard to explain but certain phrases will recur throughout a chapter in varying contexts. It gives his writing a dreamy, sometimes profound, sometimes non-sensical quality. Read 'Wild Boys' if you think you might appreciate this. Otherwise, go for one of his more conventional pieces like 'Junky' or 'Queer'. Both of these are relatively straight-forward and largely autobiographical so you'll learn a bit about the author as well. (Oddly enough, 'Queer' content is less explicit than some of the images Burroughs will confront you with in 'Wild Boys'.)
on January 26, 2004
A square - a story inside other stories - the interaction of ghosts with the living - and the living with being reborn.
This was the first Burroughs I'd read. It read like a series of short stories connected like a poem. Burroughs language flows then stutters and then squares back on itself. The way he experiments with the sound and repetition of words - was exciting and something I find I do in my own writing.
I found myself keeping track of themes - St. Louis, and green (Greenbaum, Green Inn, Green Nun, Greenfield, Green Hat), and a constant reference to 1920. I haven't read much biography on Burroughs; that should come next.
Burroughs exploration of a future that becomes more primitive even as it advances, his unabashed and open erotic descriptions as a consequence of his future rather than as an expected sidetrip, and his clean and no holds barred language require that I read more of his work.
on May 12, 2001
Even better than "Naked Lunch" is my opinion. It has "Naked Lunch"'s nightmarish imagery and makes use of the same cut-up technique, but the plot is a lot more involving and coherent than NL's dissonace.
The plot is basically about a group of "Wild Boys" who live at the fringes of society, and, (perhaps anticipating Fight Club) live to cause chaos on the all-too strictly regimented world of order. Burroughs' chronicles the lives of the Wild Boys, and many of their homosexual escapades, so if you are uneasy about reading homosexual scenes, this book is definitely not for you.
At times downright explicit, Burroughs does provide a stunning vision of a nightmarish future where the only people with true freedom will be those runaways, those "wild boys" who live on the cusp of society.
on August 19, 1998
A transitional keywork. Displaying the themes and techniques of his early work and showing mastership in them. Giving glimpses of the things to come, like more narration and further development of the 'language is a virus' theory, but not yet integrating them fluently and a little too political so that the exaggeration and satire lack sometimes the multidimensional and selfundermining force he is so capable of employing. Besides that, the voice, that singing quality of his, is not always heard in this maybe too well wrought book. The spontainity of Naked Lunch is traded for exercise like experiments. Yet he saves the day with gargantuesk displays of the rich elite and fearsome scenes of the well deserved guerilla imposed on them by the Wild Boys. Unhealthy creatures though.
on December 6, 2009
I sometimes wonder what people saw in William Burroughs when he first fell out of the sky with "Naked Lunch". From a strictly technical point of view, much of his work seems like a series of unconnected passages composed of miscellaneous phrases that have little to do with each other. The fact that most of us would prefer to avoid the people and situations he described is irrelevant - prose fiction is not in the business of making us comfortable, necessarily. My question is simply what the man was trying to do, apart from emptying the contents of his sometimes deranged mind onto paper with no effort to shape it.
Looks like I'm going to have to re-examine my assumptions about his work. "The Wild Boys", at least, gives evidence of a carefully-planned structure, although it's not the usual three-act kind. Rather, and deliciously, Burroughs packs in a grouping of images, phrases and narrative strategies that repeat all through the work, so that every time you run across one - "blue fire", for example - it carries all the previous contexts along with it. This has the effect of increasing speed from the first section to the last. "The Wild Boys" is one of the few books I can think of that builds its own context as it builds up its content. For a man who spent years cutting up sections of text and shuffling them randomly, Burroughs was anything but a random writer, at least in this piece.
None of this, of course, addresses anything about content, and there's more than enough here to remind us of Burroughs's specific declaration that he was out to shake up his readers' moral certitudes. Indeed, I read that at one point he said that he was out to publish the most revolting things he could get away with. There's graphic sexual detail on just about every page of "The Wild Boys", all of it (as the title implies) man-on-man - still a dreadful shock even in the late 1960's. That's not so outrageous these days, but some of the other incidents remain pretty upsetting, such as wholesale murder and maiming, and/or incomprehensible wastes of resources on rich jerks who obviously don't deserve them.
In this day and age, I think (I hope) we can all agree that sneak attacks, mayhem and dismemberment, cannibalism, economic abuse, and such-like remain pretty repulsive. Interestingly, when it comes to the gay sex, it may not be precisely loving, but at the very least it's consensual. All the participants seem to enjoy themselves and leave satisfied, and towards the end it's even life-giving, literally. Given Burroughs's reputation I was all set for some violent power struggle, but it's nothing of the sort. You'd think that the man's name would at least get a mention when the subject turns to gay literature. Maybe the guardians of gay lit find Burroughs embarrassing for some reason. Now that's the mark of a real rebel - he managed to get a flinch out of those folks who turn rebellion into canon.
Maybe the most stunning aspect of this whole piece, though, is the narrative coolness that runs all through - you get the idea that the characters feel some joy or power through even the vilest acts, but the narrative voice is about as emotionally involved as a lab tech studying ants. I can only speculate as to what might be the purpose behind this lack of affect. So here I go.
Some cultural mavens have suggested that this is Burroughs's way of criticizing American morals during the Vietnam era, as if he were saying "You want to remain stone-faced while those atrocities are going on? I'll show you stone-faced!" Well, far be it from me to dispute Norman Mailer and people like that, but that won't quite wash. This text doesn't appear to address morality at all; there's no attempt to separate the good guys from the bad guys. The soldiers and citizens that the Wild Boys rip apart are pretty disgusting, but the Wild Boys themselves are no better, and as a matter of fact there are plenty of passages where the narrator joins in happily with those rich jerks who consume everything in sight in the most decadent manner possible. In any case, as I said before, the narration judges no one - not the forces of civilization, not the Wild Boys, and certainly not the reader.
It's an odd thing to say about a book so full of violence and extremism, but "The Wild Boys" reads more like an aesthetic exploration than anything else. It's not about who's right and who's wrong, who's good and who's bad - it's more about what makes for something beautiful, attractively structured and symmetrical. To that extent, it certainly isn't perfect - the first chapter describes a group of incredibly nasty people in a Mexican housing project kicking off a sort of clan war, and nothing in that chapter appears anywhere else in the book, so the symmetry suffers right from the beginning.
You don't need to tell me that Burroughs probably did that on purpose, just to aggravate my sense of what he was up to. I'd expect nothing less from a bone-deep rebel like him. Doesn't change my point, though. Say what you like about "The Wild Boys", or William Burroughs, the man was an artist, start to finish, and what he made was art.
Benshlomo says, A work of art is a work of art, whether we enjoy it or not.