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And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks by Kerouac and Burroughs

Grove Press: New York
Grove Press: New Yorkby Jack kerouac and William S. Burroughs

And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs

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Having been deeply and heavily influenced by the “Beat Generation” of writers at an especially formative moment in my own writing career, I’d heard of this collaboration between Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs years ago, but for some reason had the impression it was more abstract in nature, perhaps conflating it with something else archival, and was impressed and pleased to find the published version readily available on a recent trip to the Colfax Tattered Cover in the form of a highly palatable plain spoken prose work. Far from sharing a rigid code, the so called Beat Generation were united by their progressively contrarian stance as artists, despite glaring social and polit0ical difference which would surface and do them all disservice later, as fans of their biographies might note. To the contrary, And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks, which predates both books commonly considered to be either author’s first novel, is a capable effort at hard boiled minimalism in the fictionalized retelling of the murder of David Kammerer by Kerouac’s and Burroughs’ mutual friend, Lucien Carr. The facts we knew from the biographers and Kerouac’s own last published novel, Vanity of Duluoz—how Jack helped Lucien dispose of the murder weapon by dropping it down a sewer grate, how Burroughs advised Lucien turn himself in, how Jack was jailed as an accessory after the fact, and had to get married to get the bail money from Edie Kerouac Parker’s parents after being turned down by his own Pop—but all those facts are given new grace and fictional form in this artwork, which I found especially enjoyable, despite the tendency of purists to find fault in internet forums.

Hippos was written before Jack’s debut, The Town and the City, thus lacking its sweeping Wolfean images or On the Road's spontaneous prose in conscious intuitive imitation of bop rhythms, both latter affectations. If anything, what hints there are of what may be considered his future long-windedness are purely constructive in what they add to the otherwise deliberately clipped narrative voice. Burroughs’ pages resemble in tone his commonly acknowledged debut novel, Junky, a diary of his dealings with the New York underworld as a heroin addicted scholar. The interplay of these two voices is invariably complimentary, providing a fair rendition of their friendship’s mutually complimentary nature in those early days, when Jack and Allen went to Columbia U, and Burroughs lived off campus, and Herbert Huncke was hanging around. The publication of this early collaboration of Kerouac and Burroughs was postponed for sixty years at the wish of one of its principals, respected career UPI newshawk Lou Carr, who maintained friendships with Kerouac and Burroughs throughout their lives. Carr is recently deceased, as previously witnessed by the film Kill Your Darlings.

Another Beat document to which this reporter has recently been given access, entitled Write a madder letter if you can, a catalog of the collected correspondence of On the Road author and Beat king Jack Kerouac and Colorado native artist and architect Ed White, who helped design the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory and Mitchell Hall in the Botanic Gardens, and as a graduate of Columbia University in New York. Along with Neal Cassady, White helped establish the portal connecting the East Coast Beats to Denver, Colorado. The circle of Columbia University students who comprised the nucleus of what came to be known as the Beat Generation had a powerful, vital connection to Denver via postmodern supersucker Cassady, Ed White, Hal Chase and and others, all of whom had connections to Columbia. So close was Jack Kerouac’s relationship with Denver that he developed the code word “Elitch” to refer to marijuana smoking, having enjoyed that activity in that location on more than one memorable occasion. While the complete text of each letter is never quoted in this document, this being a catalogue, significant excerpts are given, along with illuminating commentary by White, characterizing the nuances of the friends’ correspondence. The collection of correspondence between the two, published by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc. spans the years 1947 to 1969, covering the span of Kerouac’s career as a novelist, all the ups and downs of his troubled life.