Joan Vollmer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Queer is the title of an early short novel (written 1951–1953, published 1985) by William S. Burroughs. It is partially a sequel to his earlier novel, Junkie. That novel ends with the stated ambition of finding the ultimate ‘high’- a drug called Yage. Queer, although not totally devoted to that quest, does include a trip to South America looking for the substance.

The novel is noteworthy in Burroughs' development as a writer, for it has a detached cinematic quality that is absent from his later novels. However, it also contains the first seeds of ‘routines’- the long wild-eyed monologues that would gush forth in Naked Lunch and later fiction- and mark Burroughs’ work as radically satirical. In Queer, Lee tries to attract the attention of Allerton with long barstool eruptions.


Plot summary

The novel begins with the introduction of a new character in Burroughs' writing - 'Lee', who begins by recounting his life in Mexico City among an American expatriate crowd of college students and bar owners surviving on part-time jobs and GI Bill benefits. The novel is distinct from Junkie, since it is written in third-person and Burroughs himself later commented in the "Introduction" published in 1985, that it represents him off heroin, whereas in Junkie, his narrator was emotionally and psychologically ‘protected’ by his addiction to heroin. Thus the story is confessional, and less of a plot driven commentary on the characters found in the urban underclass of drug addiction. Burroughs’ Lee is very self-conscious, insecure, and driven to pursue a young man named ‘Allerton’. Allerton is based on a then 21-year-old, Adelbert Lewis Marker (1930-1998), a recently discharged American Navy serviceman from Jacksonville, Florida who befriended Burroughs in Mexico City.

Literary significance & criticism

Queer was originally written as an extension of Junkie, which had been judged too short and uninteresting for publication. However Burroughs lost interest in the manuscript, and chose not to return to it even when Junkie was accepted. It was doubtful whether much of the content could be published in the USA at that time, since the heavy homosexual content and theme could be held as obscene. Jack Kerouac admired the work and thought it would appeal to "east coast homosexual literary critics". It was eventually published in 1985 with a new Introduction, when Burroughs's literary agent Andrew Wylie secured him a lucrative publishing contract for future novels with Viking. Reportedly, he had not read the manuscript in thirty years because of the emotional trauma it caused him. Much of it was composed while Burroughs was awaiting trial for the accidental homicide of his common-law wife Joan Vollmer.

Despite his frequent and uncompromising writings on homosexuality, Burroughs has not been viewed as a gay author by many readers. In the words of Jamie Russell he has "been totally excluded from the 'queer canon'" According to Russell, Burroughs's life and writing suggests a gay subjectivity which has been deeply troubling to many in the gay community.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

An Erling Wold opera of the same title, based on the novel, premiered in the U.S. in 2001.

Steve Buscemi is set to direct a film adaption of the book. The screenplay was written by Oren Moverman, director and writer of The Messenger. Steve led the first reading of Queer at the Sarasota Film Festival with Stanley Tucci, Ben Foster, John Ventimiglia, and Lisa Joyce.

Sources used

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Joan Vollmer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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