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Queer

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  11,099 ratings  ·  399 reviews
Paperback edition. One of Burrough's most searing and astonishing writings. Dark, funny and full of the insights learned by courageous and intelligent writers who have genuinely lived on the very edges of society.
Paperback, 160 pages
Published December 17th 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1985)
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Kristen
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
I have a passionate hatred for William Burroughs. I think even his fans have to concede that he's a degenerate piece of shit. I admit my prior experience with him consists of 5 pages of Naked Lunch and a couple biographies of various sorts, none of which fail to mention the pedophilia and him murdering his wife (I'm from Detroit, don't think for a second I buy his bullshit story), not that I'd hold that against him when rating this book.

I went into this book expecting it to be about heroin abu
...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Aug 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Here's the thing that puzzles me about this book: why was it not published until 1985 while the far, far more offensive Naked Lunch was published (not without obstacles) in 1959? One idea is that Burroughs put the manuscript for Queer away for many years and chose not to revisit it because it reminded him of a extremely terrible time in his life, the time surrounding the well-known (Here's the thing that puzzles me about this book: why was it not published until 1985 while the far, far more offensive Naked Lunch was published (not without obstacles) in 1959? One idea is that Burroughs put the manuscript for Queer away for many years and chose not to revisit it because it reminded him of a extremely terrible time in his life, the time surrounding the well-known (and unfortunately adapted to the screen) accidental killing of his wife during a drunken game of William Tell (a "parlor trick" which primarily involves shooting objects off of a person's head with a gun). He goes into some detail about this emotional difficulty in the fairly remarkable introduction written in the aforementioned year of the book’s long overdue publication.

There isn’t a single description in this book that could be considered sexually explicit, homosexual or otherwise. Apparently even the slightest allusion to homosexuality while failing to regard it as a immoral, objectionable or otherwise contemptible aspect of existence was enough to prevent the book from being published, yet, Naked Lunch is immeasurably more graphic and unsettling in every dimension than Queer. So it seems that this book must have gone unpublished for 30 plus years solely due to Burroughs need to keep it hidden from himself.

So the book is a sequel to Burroughs’ novelistic debut Junky and both are quite autobiographical. To put it simply Lee is William S. Burroughs. According to some brief research Eugene Allerton is also based on a real person:

"Adelbert Lewis Marker (1930-1998), a recently discharged American Navy serviceman from Jacksonville, Florida who befriended Burroughs in Mexico City" (source). This can be affirmed through a read of Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1953-1957.

The plot is rather simple. Lee is trying to kick a heroin habit while on the lam in Mexico City. He’s avoiding Stateside drug charges until the 5 year statute of limitations is reached. He’s wandering around, drinking alcohol constantly and looking for some properly satisfying sex with men, specifically his eyes latch onto Eugene Allerton. As a brief aside here, let me say that some of the very concise descriptions of extreme lust are really well done. Though I don't identify with the specific objectives of Burroughs' lust (i.e. wishing to be "had" by and to "have" a flock of adolescent Ecuadorian boys in a muddy riverbed, etc) nonetheless lust is lust is lust is lust. Ok, so this Allerton fella is sort of queer--"obliging" is how Burroughs puts it. He's willing to have sex with men but not all that into it. That sorta thing. Their relationship doesn’t stray much from this basic dynamic.

Eventually Lee sets up a sex-for-money deal which includes (in addition to sexual demands being met at least twice a week) that Allerton is to accompany him on trip to Ecuador in search of "Yage" (a.k.a. ayahuasca), a plant Lee believes to possess telepathy-inducing properties. He believes that the Russians and Americans are trying to extract these telepathic powers from the plant for obvious, ethically dubious, authoritarian intentions (i.e. mind-control en masse). However all Lee wants it for is so that he can make pretty boys in the street and Allerton himself his sexual slaves. So he no longer has to deal with all of the socio-psychological annoyances that come with being a sex seeking gay male in the 1950’s. Lee talking to Allerton:

"While we are in Ecuador we must score for Yage," Lee said. "Think of it: thought control. Take anyone apart and rebuild to your taste. Anything about somebody bugs you, you say, 'Yage! I want that routine took clear out of his mind.' I could think of a few changes I might make in you, doll." He looked at Allerton and licked his lips. "You'd be so much nicer after a few alterations. You're nice now but you do have those irritating peculiarities. I mean, you won't do exactly what I want you to do all the time."

I enjoyed the book for three basic reasons (in no particular order):

1) The descriptions of Mexico City and various towns within Ecuador during the late 40’s/early 50’s for their cultural and historical value.

2) The expression of what kind of psychological pains faced a homosexual in the not so distant past due to the obvious massive intolerance and condemnation of such people. The word "queer" began as a pejorative term for homosexuals. Burroughs is writing during a time when this was still the case, before people had reappropriated the term and also before the word "gay" was also reappropriated to put a more positive spin on what it means to be a homosexual. I found this basic reason for enjoying the book to also bring about the only real feelings of empathy for cranky and often cruel and morbid ol’ Lee.

He felt a killing hate for the stupid, ordinary, disapproving people who kept him from doing what he wanted to do. "Someday I am going to have things just like I want," he said to himself. "And if any moralizing son of a bitch gives me any static, they will fish him out of the river."

It got me thinking about how truly unfortunate it is that homosexuals were—and still are in many socio-cultural contexts—forced to hide their sexuality, to develop the most ugly of self-conceptions, to fear for their lives all due to a hatred and prejudice that has no defensible, rational basis whatsoever. On a lighter note, it also made me feel an appreciation for the progress that has been made throughout the world to combat this irrationally-based prejudice. Though gays are still executed simply for being gay in Iran and other nations, in most western countries things have improved greatly for homosexuals.

3) Identifying the seedlings of what would eventually become the style of "classic Burroughs." Most of the novel is fairly straight ahead third-person narrative but a few bizarre Naked Lunch -like descriptions flash upon the page once and a while, mostly during what are known as Lee’s "routines." These "routines" are Lee’s oft-intoxicated rambling bar-side orations. For example we come to this monologue (voiced to no one in particular) in the midst of fairly normal third-person description of Lee shadowing his current sexual interest Eugene Allerton who is leaving the bar with a woman named Mary:

"Sometimes he [an Italian chess master] used smoke screens to hide his maneuvers from the opposition—I mean literal smoke screens, of course. He had corps of trained idiots who would rush in at a given signal and eat all the pieces. With defeat staring him in the face—as it often did, because actually he knew nothing of chess but the rules and wasn’t too sure of those—he would leap up yelling, 'You cheap bastard! I saw you palm that queen!' and ram a broken teacup into his opponent’s face. In 1922 he was rid out of Prague on a rail. The next time I saw Tetrazzini [the "Italian chess master":] was in Upper Ubangi. A complete wreck. Peddling unlicensed condoms. That was the year of rinderpest, when everything died, even the hyenas."
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MJ Nicholls
Certain “cult” writing earns this status because the prose is so transparent and simple it instantly appeals to teenage males done with Easton Ellis and Kerouac who want to up their shock quotient before attempting to read Gravity’s Rainbow for the first and last time. Queer fits the bill except, by today’s standards, the book is a little prude in tight Speedos with its danglies between its thighs asking us to love it if we’d only give it a chance. Will Lee is a homosexual-in-training in pursuit of reluctan ...more
mark monday
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
seriously, Lee, will you give it a rest? stop trying to get into the pants of that straight guy. get some dignity. try getting into the pants of some dignity! Lee, i hate to tell you this, but you are embarrassing yourself. you're desperate and that is highly unattractive. even worse, you surround yourself with the same decay that is present in your decayed view of the world. and when that isn't enough, you seek out even more decay, until the novel becomes a travelogue of depressing decay, decay ...more
Khashayar Mohammadi
"An oil lamp lit a woman's body. Lee could feel desire for the woman through the other's body. 'I'm not queer' He thought. 'I'm disembodied.'"

One of my personal favorite LGBTQ novels. A great exploration of Queer identity and hidden desires. Burroughs' prose is lyrical and simple.
Joey
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, fictions
A conservative reader might ask his Goodreads friends , “ Is William Burroughs gay? “ as if Burrough knows how it feels like being queer, an offensive slang for homosexual. If he is, it is neither here nor there because he is able to depict the reality of the homosexual world , categorically, the desire to establish an intimate relationship with a straight guy. So if you are gay, you might be able to empathize the situation of the protagonist. But if you are a straight guy, you might end up real ...more
Tal
Mar 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Lee, Chapter 4: "Got an idea for a new dish. Take a live pig and throw it into a very hot oven so the pig is roasted outside and when you cut into it, it's still alive and twitching inside. Or, if we run a dramatic joint, a screaming pig covered with burning brandy rushes out of the kitchen and dies right by your chair. You can reach down and pull off the crispy, crackly ears and eat them with your cocktails."

Junky is tougher, and Naked Lunch is weirder, but this is the best Burroughs' book I've/>
...more
Mindy
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have wanted to read Burroughs for a while and was going to start with Naked Lunch, but I kept hearing mixed opinions, so I continued to push it to the back of my TBR. Then I came across this thin novel at a used bookstore and figured this was a good place to start. Not only did I enjoy the novel, I loved that Burroughs had written the introduction. Queer was written in 1949, but wasn't published until 1985. Burroughs explains the reasons behind this and other info. that was fascinating. I'm a ...more
L.A. Witt
May 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
I tried. I effing tried.

I can appreciate the book for what it is. Publishing (even writing) a queer-themed book was daring and subversive in that era. Living that life was dangerous. So in that respect, I can appreciate it for breaking ground, etc.

That said, I hated the book. Or I should say, I hated the half of the book I managed to get through before I finally gave up because...I hated it. Lee is obnoxious, judgmental, entitled, and at times downright creepy in his pursuit of Euge
...more
Lydia
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtiqa
So I have a tricky relationship with this book.

It's one of the first pieces of queer literature that I ever read, and I read it when I was quite young. I was hungry for representation and depiction of queer characters. I had accepted myself as a queer person and was happy, but I needed validation.

I think it's one of his earlier works and isn't as well-written as some of his others. I'm not sure if it's problematic or not, I would have to reread it, but I'm not sure if I w
...more
Amy (folkpants)
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is my first time reading Burroughs even though I've been meaning to for years. I admit that the generation of writers that he was a part of- the beat generation- has never greatly appealed to me. I can't really relate to being on the road and high all the time. But, at the same time, it does lead to great story telling. Queer had a bit of that crazy on the road feel. But, for me, it also had a ton of very intimate, private emotions that I could relate to. Lee's desperation for any kind of a ...more
Michael
140815: pathetic truth, not particular to sexual gender / orientation: whomever you love, there is no limit to abasement you will eagerly suffer, for you will have no pride... though why this was not published and naked lunch was? no idea. here is the beginning of those vicious outrageous horrific hilarious routines, from lee to his audience...
Mersini
Jun 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, lgbtqia, owned
It's more like a 3 and a half but it feels wrong to bump this book down to 3.

It's a fascinating read. Not because a lot happens, but because it's impossible to read it without acknowledging that Lee is Burroughs himself. The poor guy is gay and not 100% on terms with it, even though he sleeps with men, and he has a serious drug addiction, that, a third of the way through the book, vanishes as he goes through withdrawal. In some ways it's not a light read. In other ways it is.

This books has Lee
...more
Charlotte
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoy a book about a hot mess, So I was more than a little excited when I came across this beauty at the thrift store. I mean how can you pass up a book with a penis on the cover written by a noted author?

I began reading Queer, to look at how Burroughs used his real life to write "fictional" stories. I have been struggling with how to do this in my own writing, so I am seeking out models. This is a good model for me, because I'm don't think any of the other "characters" in this sto
...more
Mat
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Okay, Okay. I wouldn't go so far as to call myself 'homophobic' but let's just say I feel slightly uncomfortable reading a book with the title of Queer on a crowded train. And I am not talking about any standard commuter train. I am talking about a jam-packed sushi-fest of people that is the Tokyo commuter train. But I realize that it's nonsense to feel that way. Who cares?
I'm a heterosexual man but do have some friends who are homosexual/lesbian and am totally cool being around them. Have no proble
...more
John Molina
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. "Queer" is interesting to me as you can see Burroughs' evolution as a writer and the novel also has a foreboding quality that many attribute to Burroughs' accidental murder of his common law wife. The actual plot of the book is pretty basic, it involves William Lee's infatuation with a young man in Mexico. The novel is unflinching in it's portrayal of blind lust; Burroughs' character makes a fool of himself on many occasions, but the novel shouldn't just be seen as on ...more
Sam
Feb 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: witty, spacey
This is pulp fiction at its finest, and the perfect companion to Burroughs better known "Junky." I have always loved the introduction to the 1985 re-issue: "When I lived in Mexico City at the end of the 1940's, it was a city of one million people, with clear sparkling air and the sky that special shade of blue that goes so well with circling vultures, blood and sand -- the raw menacing pitiless Mexican blue." If you are turned off by his post-This is pulp fiction at its finest, and the perfect companion to Burroughs better known "Junky." I have always loved the introduction to the 1985 re-issue: "When I lived in Mexico City at the end of the 1940's, it was a city of one million people, with clear sparkling air and the sky that special shade of blue that goes so well with circling vultures, blood and sand -- the raw menacing pitiless Mexican blue." If you are turned off by his post-Naked Lunch writing style, one might consider this as an alternative read. It's at times hilarious, at other times sad and pathetic, but one thing the reader should pick up on at the completion of this breezy little read is that our world has changed so much since the mid-20th century. ...more
Esteban
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Burroughs mantiene acá el registro directo y autobiográfico de Junky, pero sin la calma artificial de la morfina su protagonista y narrador tiene un tono muy distinto. Sin su armadura química, redescubre las pasiones y los bajones de la vida pulsional: "En la tristeza profunda no hay lugar para el sentimentalismo. Es algo tan inapelable como las montañas: un hecho. Una vez que uno lo comprende, no puede quejarse".

En la imprescindible introducción, Burroughs ahonda en ese aparente abismo entre el Lee de su prim
...more
Kirk Johnson
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Originally I gave this four stars. It's easier to read than most of Burroughs, but it takes some research to really get what's going on underneath the surface. I reread this a couple times this year, and it's five stars now no question.

Get the 25th Anniversary Penguin edition of this book, with the amazing Oliver Harris as editor.
Kartika
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rating: 4⭐/5

William S. Burroughs wrote Queer in the early 1950s. Meant to be written as part two of his debut novel Junkie‚ Queer followed a completely different narrative. Queer is written in a third person narrative throughout the entire story except for the fact that it changes into a first person narrative in epilogue and it reads very naturally and isn’t at all confusing.

The need for the change of narrative by William S. Burroughs was a matter of heated debate betwee
...more
Matt Piechocinski
Sep 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I think the title of this book is a bit of a misnomer, and it appeals to everyone, regardless of sexuality. Why? Because everyone has been in the situation where they find themselves pining over, or maybe even loving someone, who doesn't reciprocate emotionally. The fact that Burroughs is gay, is irrelevent, because the hurt and sadness is real, and everyone has felt it. I found myself really identifying with Lee in this way, more so than I could in Junkie ... and Allerton read like a Bret Easto ...more
Rachel Louise Atkin
Didn’t like this at first but then I loved it. It follows Lee (like Old Bull Lee I guess from On the Road) who is a junkie and searching for a drug called Yage in South America. He moves through a circle of ‘queer’ men like himself and explores his homosexuality with a lot of the people he meets.

Mainly this is about him and Allerton - the man he travels with. There was something beautiful about their relationship and the end made me sad. It was these two together that made this novel for me. Am
...more
Brenda
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013, novels
Aunque no lo sea de forma explícita, ‘Queer’ parece la representación de la exploración del dolor y de la huída psicológica del propio Burroughs. Una muestra de su necesidad de calor humano y de afecto aderezada con una escritura visceral. Lo importante es que, al contrario de lo que pasa con ‘En la carretera’, no se queda en lo banal. Un poco superior a 'Los subterráneos'. A falta de conocer ‘Aullidos, ‘Yonqui’ o ‘El almuerzo desnudo’ es el mejor beat que he leído.
Caitlin
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
The tone was relaxed yet captivating and I can see myself rereading it to see what I get from it a second time. In fact, some passages were so lovely that I reread them several times before continuing.
Kyle Shroufe
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-beat-lost
A William S. Burroughs novel that had been written just after his controversial novel "Junky" except it never got to see the light of day until the 1980's when, frankly, it was safe to publish it (and Burroughs finished the text). The idea that Burroughs even wrote this account of a homo-sexual relationship that spans continents and also inhabits heavy drug use and other topics that would be very played upon for our white picket fence society of post war America in late 40's early 50's, is just ...more
John David
This book has been sitting on my library shelves for a couple of years untouched. Since it was William Burroughs, and looked like a fairly quick read, I decided to pick it up. Burroughs is one of the seminal American authors of the underground gay experience, right? I thought it would be like reading Alan Hollinghurst on cocaine - something I was looking forward to.

But I was highly disappointed. The novel's plot revolves around gay two heroin addicts, William Lee and Eugene Allerton.
...more
Guy Portman
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Queer is an unreciprocated love story, in which the protagonist Lee craves love and attention from a young American by the name of Eugene Allerton.

Set in the American ex-pat scene of hedonistic, lawless 1940s Mexico, the first half of the story centres around a number of bars and gay joints where Lee spends his days, drinking, drug-taking and going through set routines, whereby he attempts to regale his audience with intellectualness and bizarre humour.

Later in the book Lee persuades Allerton
...more
Jason
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
Desperation and self-loathing.

With much of the unapologetic voyeuristic view as was in Junky, but less rawness in a way. Lee, the protagonist is painful to be with, you cringe and want to distance yourself. It seems that the character's view of the outside world is a reflection of his inward one - disgusting, empty, meaninglessness. A painful book, hard to reckon with, and unfinished in my view; I do not need a clear resolution, but it just seemed like this was a piece, a fragment, and it
...more
Jaded
This is an interesting look into the heart and hormones of William S. Burroughs. In many ways it is quite sad how being a member of a counter-culture group back in an era where the homophobia and persecution of those who were not WASP's was violent and deadly stunted the expression and romantic feelings of a gay man. It is equally as sad, how little this nation has changed with his hatred and judgement of people.

You come away with a feeling of bleak sadness for Burroughs that all of
...more
Miguel Soto
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muchos años de búsqueda infructuosa de la novela "Marica", y finalmente topé con una edición que se proclama definitiva, empezando con el hecho de mantener el título en inglés: Queer. La crudeza habitual de Burroughs, patente desde Yonqui, está presente también aquí, pero poco a poco se va transformando en una serie de textos menos estructurados, algunos bajo pretexto de ser sueños o evocaciones, hasta llegar a un apéndice desencajado que termina con un completo cut-up. Esta novela presenta no sólo lo ...more
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William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century ...more
“In deep sadness there is no place for sentimentality. It is as final as the mountains: a fact. There it is. When you realize it you cannot complain.” 70 likes
“Death was in every sell of his body. He gave off a faint, greenish steam of decay. Lee imagined he would glow in the dark.” 27 likes
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