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I am a huge fan of the Beat writers so for my birthday this year my incredible roommate surprised me with this book. And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is a collaborative novel by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. ‘Hippos’ was written in 1945 before the two were well known writers and was about the real life murder between their friends.
The book begins as a typical beat generation book, young men and women getting drunk, reading philosophy, talking about the war and overall trying to figure out their lives. Kerouac and Burroughs alternate chapters as Mike Ryko (Kerouac) and Will Dennison (Burroughs).
The underlying plot is the tortuous friendship between Philip Tourian and Ramsay Allen, based on the real life relationship between Lucien Carr and David Kammerer. Although this book is marketed as a mystery, I believe it is more a book about relationships and how they can go wrong.
Kerouac’s chapters seem to flow more than Burroughs but Burroughs has really interesting scenes. This is a great novel with very interesting circumstances and characters. It is also a great first Burrough’s novel for anyone who wants to see what he is like writing wise. (I got halfway through The Wild Boys and am still trying to get past some of the images he creates for you.) While the real story takes longer than you would think to get into it is still a staple for any Beat enthusiasts.
The last two chapters of the novel were my favorite so I would suggest finishing it. It was interesting to see how different their reactions to the circumstances were and to go along the ride with them.
Here is a news article on the case between Carr/Kammerer posted on Flickr by pitoucat
For more information on Carr/Kammerer click here.