Author: William S Burroughs
Dates Published: 1969
In this funny, nightmarish masterpiece of imaginative excess, grotesque characters engage in acts of violent one-upmanship, boundless riches mangle a corner of Africa into a Bacchanalian utopia, and technology, flesh and violence fuse with and undo each other. A fragmentary, freewheeling novel, it sees wild boys engage in vigorous, ritualistic sex and drug taking, as well as pranksterish guerrilla warfare and open combat with a confused and outmatched army. The Wild Boys shows why Burroughs is a writer unlike any other, able to make captivating the explicit and horrific.
When I finished reading the first chapter of ‘The Wild Boys’, I put down the book and thought to myself ‘I have no idea what is actually going on’. It made sense on one side of my brain, but not on the other. So I decided to look on the trusty internet to find out what the story was actually about. I went to Amazon’s reviews of ‘The Wild Boys’, but found that no one gave an explanation about the nature of the book. They were more interested in raving about its perceived brilliance or alternatively raining fire and brimstone on its perceived shittyness. A middle ground, let alone a slight description of the contents, was no where to be found.
Despite the exciting blurb, any slight resemblance of a cohesive plot is absent until the last third of ‘The Wild Boys’. It would be better described as a series of random scenes that occassionally unite to form a fleeting plot.
‘The Wild Boys’ reads like an extremely hallucinogenic dream (think of your weirdest dream; now add a cocktail of drugs to this). It is a fast paced, constantly rolling dribble of subconscious imagery and flickering scenery. On the surface it appears to be random, but Burroughs has chosen every word, and the placement of that word, meticulously. It destroys all rules of punctuation and grammar (I’m imagining the weeping editor ‘Is this random full stop deliberate or a typo?’).
It is a sensory overload, with colours and scents playing a particularly key role. At times the scenes are like fading memories, at other times the events are illuminated by the harshness of a spotlight. It is laden with homosexual encounters and metaphors, particularly the last third (I never really want to read the words ‘rectal mucus’ again). At times these graphic sex scenes become strangely repetitive. Occasionally there seems to be a thread of meaning amongst all the imagery and visuals, but it is elusive, if present at all. Words constantly double back on each other, are remixed and rearranged. Amongst this cascade, or assault, on your imagination a dark and humorous storyline is woven to some degree. The world of ‘The Wild Boys’, where gangs of vicious, homosexual terrorists have reshaped society to their own amoral view, could have proved fascinating if it were focused on more.
At times Burroughs can be brilliant. His cynical, elaborate humour, his ability to create visuals that combine gore and sex with horrifying results and his lucid descriptions edge on genius. His distinct style is utterly different to anything I have ever read. The chapters I enjoyed most were ‘Old Sarge Smiles’ ,’Le Gran Luxe’ and ‘The Dead Child’.
For those who dislike delineation from classical narrative form and structure (or abstract concepts in literature in general), this is not your type of book. ‘The Wild Boys’ would test even the most ardent post modernism fan. It is one of those polarising ‘love it or hate it’ texts, that I’m sure would be addictive to some and repulsive to others.
‘The Wild Boys’ was a fascinating book that ultimately left me feeling quite empty. This, above everything else, is the reason for its relatively low score.
♥♥ – 2/5
On a personal note – The best quote from the Amazon reviews by disgruntled ‘peanutbutterchicken’:
‘Is it just me or does everyone in this damned book seem to carry a tin of vaseline?’