Jason's Reviews > And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 03, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: books-on-tape
Read in February, 2011

Someone gave me the idea of listening to books on tape while doing housework and collaging, and it was the greatest idea ever. It's like you're doing two things at once! What a spectacularly lazy, but engaging multi-tasking.

The key to a successful book-on-tape, though, is the narrator. What i found so fascinating about this book is the actor they hired to read it. Now I've listening to a couple of books, and some of them bored the hell out of me. The reader was either too stilted, too obnoxious, his characters were piss-poor and undiscernible. But Hippos' reader Ray Porter does an excellent job of getting certain characters. His consistency is sometimes detracting from a complex composition, but you are only experiencing the "play" of the book within one sense: sound. The consistency is nice, you know who is saying what. What more is that the emotions are tied in with the lines, the hesistance and the calamity and the uncouth brutishness; the slutty deadpan of the girls and the overmasculine coolness of the boys of the 1940's. It is read with gusto and contemplation.

All that being said, I enjoyed this novel in a different context than most readers would have. It was like listening to an old radio play, complete with the dramatic pauses, the ample characterization, the swing and sway of descriptive paragraphs. I think of the beat generation as a fairly interactive type of literature. "Howl" was great because it was read at super-fast speed to an audience of LSD-rattled bohemians. Sure, it's got sharp rhythm and a balanced, impeccable diction, but what's most important is the biography--one which not only placed the scheme of "Beat" within and upon a people experiencing it; but also as historical data, it places us within that generation. That is it's power, it's not only exemplifying a scene, it is engaging it, actively.

Beat literature is meant to be read out loud, where the prose is poetry and the action is in feeling the words inside yourself. You are actor with Beat. So i found this text rewarding.

To say only a few words about the book itself: It is a nice view of that time period which very few writers have written about. Bohemia is condensed to the fifties when it became viable as pop culture. The New York of the forties was a build-up. So, this book is a build-up. It's immediate plot, containing the murder, is well-constructed and almost too much with the dog-like panting loyalty of the gay character mulling up to the respect of the handsome Lucien Carr character. I really enjoyed the sensational roughness of the time period, i.e. eating glass, barfights prompted by cops, hard sex as rampant as cockroaches in the city and the laissez-faire attitude of enlisting in World War Two. In fact, the entire scene of daydreaming of the South of France and trying to climb aboard a freighter and unionize was surprising. I never thought of soldiers being so naive, but i suppose dreamers will dream in any situation. Besides, it seems everything was fucking in that exciting "good war" era.

I can appreciate why it was never published and i like that. It adds a mystique to the book and the epilogue is inviting when it is finished. It was never published because they were unknown when it was written, and couldn't find a publisher. Carr was released after a few years and implored them not to publish it, so as to save his reputation and let him move on. Kerouac and Burroughs shelved it and then just left it to be found later, to appreciate a history. Kerouac would think of it often, "Ah yes, it's buried in my grandmother's house in Massachusetts somewhere..." but it was sophomoric and could only gain integrity with age. It is now a better historical document than it is a literary feat. Nevertheless, it's worth the read because the plot and characters are humorous and fun, the scene is a suprising take on the forties and its fun to pick out the known beat characters/writers who are cast in cameos throughout.

That's what it would be good for, an ocean's eleven-like cast to play all these beat characters in the apprehensive, youthful, madness of the book. I hope i'm tickling hollywood's psyche for another remake of some sort. This is shit right up the ass for that dead-but-kicking impulse. It would be sweet if Terry Gilliam directed it, too.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.