García-Robles, Jorge. The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico. Univ. of Minnesota. 2013. 176p. tr. from Spanish by Daniel C. Schechter. notes. ISBN 9780816680634. pap. $17.95. LIT
Mexican writer, translator, and Beat historian García-Robles (translator, Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler) first published this short work in Mexico in 1995, where it received the Malcom Lowry literary essay award. In 1949, a 35-year-old Burroughs (Naked Lunch) flees to Mexico City from New Orleans on drug charges, dreaming of a free and rural existence with his then common-law wife Joan Vollmer, but it was in Mexico that Burroughs fatally shot Joan while supposedly playacting William Tell and also where he became an author. García-Robles colors the background of these and other significant episodes in Beat history and lays bare the events of three influential years on his subject’s life. Readers are introduced to characters in Burroughs’s novels (e.g., Lewis Marker in Queer) and locations that became prevalent in his early works. Beat icons Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg (as Burroughs’s literary agent) make appearances, often with unexpected results. Readers may be familiar with the drug-addicted, degenerate, gun-toting Burroughs, and he indeed appears throughout this work. But also well represented is a man unable to obtain citizenship papers, who experiences prolonged unrequited love, meticulously counts his earnings from publications, and considers himself responsible for providing for his household. VERDICT Burroughs’s relationship with Mexico was a complicated mesh of idyllic dreams and frustration with the country’s bureaucracy. García-Robles successfully shows how the writer’s life mirrors this relationship. Recommended for fans of Burroughs, Beat writers, biography, and 1950s Mexico.
Miles, Barry. Call Me Burroughs: A Life. Twelve: Hachette. Jan. 2014. 400p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781455511952. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455511945. LIT
In addition to writing extensive histories and biographies on the Beat movement, London underground culture, and 1960s music titans, Miles (Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now) was also friend and editor to William S. Burroughs (1914–97). This book’s title comes from Burroughs’s debut recording of the same name, which Miles had a hand in releasing. Drawing from thousands of conversations, interviews, writings, recordings, and other sources, this work all but resurrects Burroughs in print as it documents the roots and development of his mysterious creative techniques. His personality is a unique mix of “newscaster,” monk, and junkie, and Miles explores the influence of cultures such as Tangiers and Mexico on the man, both personally and artistically. A meticulous description of each of his love and sex interests (the vast majority men and boys) is provided as is a thorough portrait of his place among various literary luminaries (e.g., Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac). This is a complete biography, and as such it is important to understand that since Burroughs had some repetition in his life, many parts of the book are repetitious as well. For this reason, a shorter biography of only part of his life, such as Jorge García-Robles’s The Stray Bullet (reviewed above), may be more suitable. VERDICT Highly recommended for readers of Burroughs, Beat historians, and fans of Beat lit, biography, LGBT lit, and experimental artists.