Junky – William Burroughs Review

Progress on Alternate: 68,030 words

Current Review:

Since I’d just read Augusten Burroughs’ Dry, it seems logical that the next book on my neatly alphabetised shelf would be Junky, but it’s interesting because at the same time, these were two books I read for the first time with barely any time apart.

This always reads to me like a much more obvious, earthy account of addiction. It’s not pretty. It’s not even emotional. It’s cold, clinical, and examines the experiences Burroughs had as if they were a part of some odd science experiment.

It was also written, I believe, when Burroughs was still actively an addict. Which makes sense. The slang, the way of talking… there is a different language, and until you’ve experienced both sides you don’t even know it. I found the same thing in the work I’ve done with people. Especially when I started, I would have to ask ‘what does this mean?’ or ‘is that a real thing?’. Burroughs talks like he expects people to already know.

I remember the first time I read this book, that was disconcerting. I wasn’t as familiar as I am today, and I felt like I should grab a dictionary to find addict-to-English translations. But now, as I am, it feels like listening to those stories. Someone talking simply as they feel comfortable talking, with no little added parts for the reader or explanations. Just ‘you and me, we’re on the same level, we speak this language’. I can really understand why a lot of the people I know who have been involved in drug use feel that this book speaks to them, is more authentic. Because it DOES.

It’s an odd thing to read, I think, without that. Without that knowledge. Because I imagine it must feel very alien, very odd. Or perhaps people enjoy some sense of ‘other’. But I know for me, the moment I knew more, the moment this book started doing its work. But years ago, in a college classroom, trying to write about the presentation of addiction in this book, I was at a loss.

-K Hart


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