And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

Years before Burroughs and Kerouac catapulted to respective literary fame with Naked Lunch and On the Road, the two men collaborated on a fictional retelling of a real-life case of murder that is only now seeing the light of day. In 1944, a drunken brawl spurred their friend (and future influential Beatnik) Lucien Carr to kill David Kemmerer, whose ongoing advances he had spurned, and the resulting fracas -- in which both Kerouac and Burroughs were arrested as accessories to the crime because neither reported it to the police -- resulted in this hard-boiled tale of Manhattan's grimy, sexually teeming underbelly. Alternating chapters, the two young writers fashioned a novel with prose so spare, atmosphere so thick, and language so bone dry it would have been right at home with the Gold Medal or Ace Double paperback-original houses, had they existed at the time. There's some eerie foreshadowing as Burroughs's stand-in, "Will Dennison," rejects complex emotional entanglements with the female sex by wondering "why can't we do away with women altogether," while some characters mock the half-French ancestry of "Mike Ryko," shared with his alter ego. Hippos, summarily rejected by publishers upon the manuscript's completion more than 60 years ago and more or less dismissed by both writers thereafter, should be considered more an entertaining (if somewhat melancholic) curiosity than a standout achievement on either writer's part. Diehard Kerouac and Burroughs fans, however, should seek this volume out for its insight into what these brash young talents would later become.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.