Burroughs wrote a number of his books using a 'cut up' technique: narratives were written, cut and pasted in a different order. This makes it very difficult to talk of a plot. The Wild Boys is about a group of boys near Marrakech who go feral and roam the desert (and. it seems. the Mexican jungle) killing and having ritualistic gay sex. The story mixes in science fiction and supernatural elements: one gay ritual involves boys creating 'zimbus' during gay copulation enabling the tribe to procreate without women.
In the late sixties these books must have seemed daring and avant garde. But now it is relevant to ask whether they are actually any good.
The book starts with a description of a derelict Mexican slum. It appears in the first paragraph and is then forgotten. The first paragraph has a fly-by drone taking photos; the second concentrates on adjectives of dereliction such as choked, rusty, cracked and broken; the third introduces colours. There are lots of colours in this book; they are almost his favourite adjectives. Yet his palette isn't terribly extensive and the same colours are repeated again and again.
Repetition is also a feature of the book and one wonders whether the cut-up style might have been invented to space out the repetitions and avoid them seeming to become burdensome. Certainly, fragments from the erotic couplings are repeated again and again; Burroughs seems to see this as a sort of peep show arcade as opposed to the blue movies which are given rather more story and rather less sex.
After some effort, we arrive at the meat of the novel. A number of named characters, all young boys, including prep-school Aubrey and all-Americans Johnny and his cousin Mark, and poor Mexican Kiki have anal sex. These episodes seem to be retellings of first times. Rather cutely, Burroughs takes refuge in Spanish when it comes to some of the more explicit moments: vuelvete y aganchete means turn around and get down, quiero follarte means I want to fuck, buen lugar para follar means good place to fuck etc. Intrioguingly this, the pornographic heart of the novel, straddles (I think that might be an apposite word) the dead centre of the book.
So far, so undistinguished. Burroughs has produced a shocking book which aspires to literary greatness partly because of its subject matter but also because of its disdain for many of the literary conventions. Does that make it good or merely self-regarding?
The only reason Burroughs gets away with it at all is because of his ability to create vivid images. The whole wild boys adventure is a fantasy and others can go further down this road. But there are some phrases which stand out:
- "A jungle seen through a faceted eye that looks simultaneously in any direction up or down"
- "Occasionally the overseer adjusts a slow worker with his eyes."
- "trailing white-hot wires like a jellyfish"
- "Everyone has reversible linings and concealed pockets"
- "the walking dead catatonic from hunger ... the legs of this river of flesh ... burrows of walking flesh."
In the end, though, it is just another sixties work of art promising a revolution that was never delivered.
Allegedly, David Bowie was influenced by the book when creating his androgynous image (and possibly also by the paragraph which talks of two astronauts, gay lovers, who orbit in a Gemini space capsule which then loses radio contact; this seems a possible source for Major Thom).
I have now also read by Burroughs:
November 2015; 184 pages