07.27.2011

“Cities of the Red Night” by William S. Burroughs

Trying to figure out what this book is about is like trying to figure out what a jigsaw puzzle will look like based on the loose pieces (with no box top to guide you). There seem to be two or three themes: something about 18th century pirates trying to establish a utopia in Panama, something about a present-day private detective on a missing persons case, and something about ancient cities (as in 100,000 years ancient). There’s a radioactive virus that sends people into a sexual frenzy. There’s lots of time travel. There’s lots of drug use. There’s lots of ritual/magic sex of the anal kind, and lots of pretty boys with leering grins. But don’t shelve this under “gay fiction.” The book’s sole strength (IMO) is its ability to disgust and repulse and rebel against traditional literary techniques. Apparently this is Burroughs trademark, which he began with “Naked Lunch” in 1959. Halfway through the book I told myself I should just ditch it, but my curiosity won out. I kept reading, hoping that it would make sense in the end. It didn’t. Honestly, I don’t think the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the story are *meant* to create a specific picture. If “Cities of the Red Night” is a drug-induced vision of the world, then it should be required reading for all high-school students. It would be more effective at keeping kids off drugs than any DARE program ever could be.

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