The following is a review of the collaboration novel by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks.
If you’re interested at all in the Beats generation and their contributions to the literary culture, than this book is a must-read. Not a should-read, a must-read. The integration of real-life characteristics of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Carr, and Kammerer are undeniable and amplify the events of the novel, though it is not entirely factual. Since the majority of the novel is spent developing the characters, who are more or less based on the men listed above, it gives a unique insight into the dynamic of these great authors and their relationships with one another.
That being said, the characters in the book are terrible humans. It was like reading Seinfeld, where everyone was horrible, and almost nothing happened, but you continued to read because it’s gotta be going somewhere, right?! Mike Ryko and his girlfriend Janie were in an abusive relationship, and he was terrible to her. I’m not sure if there was any love between them, but it truly seemed like he was only in it for the money and sex. I continuously wondered why Janie allowed Mike to treat her like crap and spend her money and live in her apartment when all she really wanted was to get married, which he was unwilling to do (probably because of his underlying and unexplored bisexuality). However, I did feel truly connected to Janie when she asked Mike not to ship out. It was innocent, sweet, and I could completely understand where she was coming from. I wish I had more background information on her character because I’d be curious to know how she was treated and raised as a child. We know she is a trust-fund kid, which makes me question whether or not that has led her to become extremely attached to anyone who will be close to her.
Phillip Tourian was clearly struggling with being bisexual (or homosexual), which is why he had an on/off relationship with both Ramsay Allen (Al) and Barbara (Babs). He felt like he had to prove himself with Babs, but wanted to explore his feelings with Al. His shame over the latter gave him much anxiety, which is why he felt he needed to die or escape. In the end, he decided that Al should die instead. However, Al gives off a pedophilic vibe, so I’m torn between blaming him or Phillip for the events that occurred. It’s clear that Al is the one who brought Phillips bisexuality to the forefront, but I can’t help but wonder if Phillip only had that notion because Al has been pressuring and following Phillip around since he was a child.
Then there was Dennison, whose lack of involvement in the drama makes him seem like a reliable narrator, but his severe and sincere interest in starting a marijuana business makes me question said reliability. However, his disinterested attitude he held towards his friends kept the narrative honest and realistic (until the murder, which, in my opinion, is worth caring about).
I found the double perspective of the book to make it a bit repetitive in terms of always complaining about Al and Phil and their treatment/discussion of one another, and Dennison and Ryko were, for the most part, in agreement about their opinions. It was slightly insightful as it gave different accounts of the events leading up to and surrounding Al’s death. Other than that, it didn’t seem necessary.
As I said in the beginning, if you’re at all interested in the Beats generation, this novel is a must-read. It’s fiction, but based in reality and provides a unique insight to the early writing style of Kerouac and Burroughs. I highly recommend it, and believe it will be an excellent addition to readers interested in that time period, the people, US literature, LGBTQ+ literature, and many more genres.
If you’ve read it, or have any questions about my thoughts, leave them in the comments below!