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Naked Lunch: The Restored Text Paperback – January 26, 2004
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Naked Lunch is a book that redefined not just literature but American culture. An unnerving tale of a narcotics addict unmoored in New York, Tangiers, and ultimately a nightmarish wasteland known as Interzone, its formal innovation, formerly taboo subject matter, and tour de force execution have exerted their influence on the work of authors like Thomas Pynchon, J G Ballard, and William Gibson; on the relationship of art and obscenity; and on the shape of music, film, and media generally. Naked Lunch The Restored Text includes many editorial corrections to error present in previous editions, and incorporates Burroughs's notes on the text, several essays he wrote over the years about the book, and an appendix of 20 percent new material and alternate drafts from the original manuscript, which predates the first published version.
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The book itself is not written using a traditional 'narrative.' Instead of having a beginning, middle and end, it's written with a non-linear style-- meaning you can pick it up at any time, turn to any page and read any sentence on any page that you want, in almost any order. Theoretically, if you were so inclined, you could read the book in reverse-- the last sentence first until you finish with the first sentence. In this respect the book is a true work of art. But like I said, it's not for everybody-- and you'll either get it or you won't get it-- and that's okay.
In a sense, the book is like visiting a modern art museum and seeing an abstract painting or sculpture-- it might mean something different to you than the person standing next to you-- or it might not mean anything at all. That aside, Burroughs has been said to have said that the book's title, "Naked Lunch" means exactly what it says: A frozen moment when you see exactly what's on the end of your fork-- or, in layman's terms, when you see something as it truly is. The book also makes several heavily politically charged statements, most notably being against the death penalty.
Many people will ask what the "plot" of "Naked Lunch" is. That's a little hard to explain, seeing the book is written in such a style that it can be read in any order the reader desires. But, I'll give describing the plot a shot: A heroin addict in a dystopian alternate 1950s New York City is on the run from forces he can't quite describe-- whether or not they're "real," he seems to feel there is a very real threat. His paranoia takes him on a journey across the sea to a town in Morocco and eventually to the extremely dystopian city of Interzone and the barren wastelands of Annexia. Along the way, he meets a variety of colorful characters, including the mad doctor Dr. Benway who performs horrendous and abominable experiments on people which transforms their flesh in pure 'bodily horror' style. The main character, Lee, also encounters the "Mugwumps," strange creatures who are omnisexual in nature. If read from start to finish with the right kind of eyes and imagination, "Naked Lunch" is a tale of sex, drugs, murder and mystery set in a nightmarish sci-fi dystopian world that only American writer William Burroughs would ever describe.
If you're confused by the book the first time you read it, don't worry-- you're not alone. I was confused the first time, too. In fact, it's probably best NOT to read "Naked Lunch" first if you're going to get into the works of Burroughs. Start with "Junky" or "Queer," or even "The Wild Boys" (if you're feeling brave) because those have comprehensible narratives with a definite beginning, middle and end (maybe not 'The Wild Boys' entirely, but still more than 'Naked Lunch'). All in all, if you're a fan of 1950s beatnik literature, Golden Age science fiction or just looking for something completely out of the ordinary, pick up a copy of "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs.
It is dark and vile and gets you into the mind of the author who was deep into Morphine addiction as well as other drugs. The characters developed will leave a gross feeling in your gut and there are many scenes that literally left me with my mouth agape in disgust as I read them. Characters and scenes come and go often dissolving in to chaotic events that can leave the reader bewildered and disturbed. Very little makes any real sense as you dig though the mind of Burroughs deep in the torments of his addiction.
The ending of this edition (I cannot speak for others) is where the author explains what it was like creating this book and wreathing in his addiction. The ending of the book really ties it all together. It does nothing to answer any questions about the stories themselves, but it provides a very real glance into Morphine addiction.
Based on what I experienced reading this book and how the authors ending justified the book itself, I would push to have such a thing as mandatory reading throughout this nations high schools. I believe scholastically studying this book at a young age in an atmosphere such as high school would provide a very real look for our youth at what hard drugs do to the brain. This could provide not only a genuine fear and distaste of these things but a real education into empathy for those who are buried in addition. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is up for the ride.