RandomAnthony's Reviews > Exterminator!

Exterminator! by William S. Burroughs
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Jan 13, 10

Read in January, 2010

By the time I hit 21 my impressions of William S. Burroughs included:

1. Al Jorgensen was a fan. I remember a picture of the two together.
2. Heroin.
3. Short guy with a hat.
4. Burroughs killing his wife while trying to shoot an apple off her head.

I’m not sure from where these impressions emerged. Ok, #1 can probably be attributed to a picture on the Wax Trax walls, if my memory serves me well, but the others impressions’ origins are lost. I didn’t add to my Burroughs schema until my folksinger brother mentioned his name in the same breath as Ginsberg. Now, I fucking hate Howl, or at least I did when I had to read the book in Debra Bruce’s godawful poetry class at Northeastern Illinois University in, oh, I’m going to say 1991. And the heroin guys I knew were dark and scary so I wasn’t attracted to shooting up. Ministry had gone all loud by then and everybody in Chicago knew Jorgensen was a prick.

I had nothing against short guys in suits and had no opinion on the wife/apple incident. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure that story was true.

So I stayed away from Burroughs for a couple decades until Tadpole and a couple others mentioned his work in a positive light. And then I saw Exterminator! on the shelves of a used bookstore in the Chicago suburbs. And then I read Exterminator! over a couple cold January days. I’m glad I did. Exterminator! is a good book.

I should qualify the last sentence. Exterminator! is a good book is 1) you don’t mind a writer who sometimes seems to hate women (angry lesbians show up every few pages), 2) you don’t mind tons of drug and young gay sex references, and 3) you don’t mind reading sentences like “Billy turns bright red he is fucking teeth bare bleeding this smell billow out his asshole.”

No typos in that last quote. I checked.

So why is The Exterminator! a good book? Well, I could see someone trying to imitate Burroughs by stringing together nonsense and curse words but Burroughs is much smarter and more controlled than any imitators. His prose contains startling windows of insight often in small, insignificant observations about how, for example, a mandrill might run for president or how one handles a room’s small objects can expand into a philosophy. Burroughs (and I’m not a Burroughs scholar here, so don’t yell at me) seems to live best on the line between quiet observation and braying, psychotic visions. So while a couple pages can pass with what seem like disjointed recurring images of Clancy the cop, someone named Audrey, and the number 23, after wading through the mire the reader is rewarded with a surprisingly and unexpected pulling together of seemingly loose ends. And while experimental fiction (I guess I would call this “experimental fiction”) is often dull and dreary Burroughs can be flat-out funny, especially when he takes on the voice of a straight man trying to figure out the surrounding world. Also, these pieces were published in the late sixties. There’s something very cool about Burroughs publishing these crazyass stories in the middle of the tie-dye era. Take that, hippies!

Oh, this book is technically a novel, according to the cover, but…um…maybe. I found The Exterminator! to be more of a loosely connected collection of stories encompassing political commentary, hallucinatory fantasies, and mental illness in full bloom. From what I understand The Exterminator! is not one of Burroughs’ major works, so I’m curious as to what, for example, Naked Lunch is like. I’ll check that out next.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Matt (new)

Matt Jourgenson is a prick? Well that's disappointing...

The "William Tell routine" that resulted in the death of Joan Burroughs did happen, but legend has it that it was a drinking glass that was on her head. This is worse to me, as the flying glass seems almost as dangerous as the bullet to me.


message 2: by David (new)

David Ministry had gone all loud by then and everybody in Chicago knew Jorgensen was a prick.

Everyone in Chicago? Wasn't good ol' 'Alien' Jourgensen's career itself predicated upon his manufactured image of being a prick? (I think we were intended -- forcibly if necessary -- to forget the With Sympathy days when he was effete aspiring Eurotrash.)


message 3: by David (last edited Jan 13, 2010 03:40PM) (new)

David I just noticed that the three of us have three different spellings of Jourgensen. (But mine's right. BOO-YAH!)


RandomAnthony Heh. You probably looked it up, David, on the back of your copy of With Sympathy...

Well, I never met the guy, but he was a method actor, then, if you will, from what I understood. Steve Albini was more my type of Chicago prick.




message 5: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa What's wrong with "With Sympathy"? I had it on cassette. And I had "Everyday is Halloween" on vinyl. Extended remix 12 inch. Oh, JC.


RandomAnthony What color was your sleeve, Vanessa? Didn't Wax Trax print the sleeves in different colors? I think I had blue...


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