Junkyby William S. Burroughs
Burroughs’s first and most autobiographical novel is one of the most unflinching and insightful works on addiction ever written—a cult classic and an influence on authors from J. G. Ballard to Hunter S. Thompson.
In his raw debut novel, Junky, Burroughs fictionalized his experiences using and dealing heroin and other drugs in the 1940s, turning them into a work that reads like a field report from the underworld of postwar America. The Burroughs-like protagonist of the novel, Bill Lee, seesaws between periods on junk and off junk, using a panoply of substances including heroin, cocaine, marijuana, paregoric (a weak tincture of opium), and goof balls (barbiturate). As he navigates the crime-ridden streets of New York, trying to convince doctors to give him a prescription for opiates and doing his best to avoid the “pigeons” who are given a steady supply of heroin by the police in exchange for informing on drug dealers, the narrator describes the physical experience of getting high, and the visceral need for another hit that haunts him every day. From the tenements of New York to the queer bars of New Orleans, Junky takes the reader into a world at once long-forgotten and still deeply resonant today. Burroughs’s first novel is a cult classic and a critical part of his oeuvre.
“Burroughs’s voice is hard, derisive, inventive, free, funny, serious, poetic, indelibly American.” —Joan Didion
“A creator of grim fairy tales for adults, Burroughs spoke to our nightmare fears and, still worse, to our nightmare longings. . . . And more than any other postwar wordsmith, he bridged generations; his popularity in the youth culture is greater now than during the heady days of the Beats.” —Douglas Brinkley, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“In 1953, at the height of American conformism and anti-communist hysteria, William S. Burroughs published Junky, an irresistible strung-out ode to the joys and perversities of drug addiction. . . . Junky eschews allegory for scrupulous realism. . . . More than anything else, Junky reads like a field guide to the American underworld.” —Nathaniel Rich, The Daily Beast
Praise for William S. Burroughs:
“The most important writer to emerge since World War II . . . For his sheer visionary power, and for his humor, I admire Burroughs more than any living writer, and most of those who are dead.” —J. G. Ballard
“William was a Shootist. He shot like he wrote—with extreme precision and no fear.” —Hunter S. Thompson
“A book of great beauty . . . Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.” —Norman Mailer on Naked Lunch
“Burroughs seems to revel in a new medium . . .a medium totally fantastic, spaceless, timeless, in which the normal sentence is fractured, the cosmic tries to push its way through the bawdry, and the author shakes the reader as a dog shakes a rat.” —Anthony Burgess on The Ticket That Exploded
“Of all the Beat Generation writers, William S. Burroughs was the most dangerous. . . . He was anarchy’s double agent, an implacable enemy of conformity and of all agencies of control—from government to opiates.” —Rolling Stone
One day I was walking down San Juan Létran and passed a cafeteria that had colored tile set in the stucco around the entrance, and the floor was covered with the same tile. The cafeteria was unmistakably Near Eastern. As I walked by, someone came out of the cafeteria. It was a type character you see only on the fringes of a junk neighborhood.
As the geologist looking for oil is guided by certain outcroppings of rock, so certain signs indicate the near presence of junk. Junk is often found adjacent to ambiguous or transitional districts: East Fourteenth near Third in New York; Poydras and St. Charles in New Orleans; San Juan Letrán in Mexico City. Stores selling artificial limbs, wig-makers, dental mechanics, loft manufacturers of perfumes, pomades, novelties, essential oils. A point where dubious business enterprise touches Skid Row.
There is a type person occasionally seen in these neighborhoods who has connections with junk, though he is neither a user nor a seller. But when you see him the dowser wand twitches. Junk is close.