Synopses & Reviews
The legendary unpublished collaboration between William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, a hard-boiled crime novel about a shocking murder at the dawn of the Beat Generation.
On August 14, 1944, Lucien Carr, a friend of William S. Burroughs from St. Louis, stabbed a man named David Kammerer with a Boy Scout knife and dropped the body into the Hudson River. Kammerer had long fawned over the younger Carr, making romantic advances that, for a time, it seemed Carr didn’t mind. But after six years as the older man’s protégé, either Carr had had enough or he was forced to defend himself. The next day, his clothes stained with blood, he went to his friends Bill Burroughs and Jack Kerouac for help. Doing so, he caught them up in the crime. The two were arrested for failing to inform the police, and a few months later, they were drawn to the crime in a different way.
Something about the murder, with its echoes of Verlaine and Rimbaud, captivated the Beats. Burroughs and Kerouac decided to collaborate on a fictionalization of the events of the summer of 1944, a crime novel in the style of Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain. They alternated chapters, Burroughs writing as Will Dennison, a bartender steeped in the criminal underworld and Kerouac as Mike Ryko, a hard-drinking merchant marine in dirty chinos. For the title, they settled on a line from a news report they had heard one night while sitting in a bar near Columbus Circle. A circus in Hartford, Connecticut, had caught fire and the radio announcer ended his piece by stating "and the hippos were boiled in their tanks."
At this point, the writers were far from famous. Burroughs had written next to nothing, and Kerouac, though he had churned out hundreds of thousands of words, had met with little success it would be five years before his first novel was published. When they submitted the novel to publishers, it was rejected by all, and sat unpublished for decades.
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks is an incomparable artifact from the early days of the Beats, a fascinating piece of American literary history, and a remarkable window into the personal lives of two hugely influential writers at the very beginning of their careers. It is also an engaging novel, a hypnotic descent into lust and obsession, drugs and alcohol, art and outsized dreams.
"The appearance in print of And the Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac is a literary event, not only because it drew two of the three leading Beat writers into confederacy, but because the book told a story of male friendship, gay obsession, and murder that came to fascinate a score of American authors....It's a fascinating snapshot from a lost era. If you're looking for the link between Hemingway's impotent post-war drifters in The Sun Also Rises, the barflies and Tralalas of Last Exit to Brooklyn and the zonked-out kids of Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, look no further." John Walsh, The Independent
In the summer of 1944, a shocking murder rocked the fledgling Beats. William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, both still unknown, we inspired by the crime to collaborate on a novel, a hard-boiled tale of bohemian New York during World War II, full of drugs and art, obsession and brutality, with scenes and characters drawn from their own lives. Finally published after more than sixty years, this is a captivating read, and incomparable literary artifact, and a window into the lives and art of two of the twentieth centurys most influential writers.
More than sixty years ago, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac sat down inNew York City to write a novel about the summer of 1944, when one of their friends killed another in a moment of brutal and tragic bloodshed. The two authors were then at the dawn of their careers, having yet to write anything of note. Alternating chapters and narrators, Burroughs and Kerouac pieced together a hard-boiled tale of bohemian New York during World War II, full of drugs and obsession, art and violence. The manuscript, called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks after a line from a news story about a fire at a circus, was submitted to publishers but rejected and confined to a filing cabinet for decades. This legendary collaboration between two of the twentieth centuries most influential writers is set to be published for the first time in the fall of 2008. A remarkable, fascinating piece of American literary history, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks is also an engrossing, atmospheric novel that brings to life a shocking murder at the dawn of the Beat Generation.