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The Place of Dead Roads’ is a picaresque novel, the centrepiece of the ‘Cities of Red Night’ trilogy, and stands as an excellent introduction to William Burroughs’ thematic and stylistic concerns.

The novelist Peter Ackroyd characterised ‘Cities of Red Night’ – and by extension, its sequels – as “an obsessional landscape” and the choice of adjective is telling. Burroughs’ concerns are broad, cosmic, fundamental but the tent-pegs of the whole circus are, by necessity, ground-level: addiction, power, alienation, beauty and attraction, ugliness and repulsion. He is an existential writer and thinker, like Camus and hence the ‘naked lunch’ of his most infamous work: the moment when one sees “exactly what is at the end of one’s fork” without evasion or denial.

The Place of Dead Roads’ details the lot of one Kim Carsons; child of the Old West, outlaw gun-fighter, rogue shaman and Man with a Plan. His life charts the transition from a landscape dominated by the often savage realities of the Frontier to a 20th Century reality, tacitly preoccupied with the science fiction concerns of the Modern era and ruled over by “evil old men who play poker” and “are constitutionally immune to the effects of bourbon”.

Obstensibly a western, ‘Place of Dead Roads’ is one of Burroughs’ most conventionally novelistic works. It’s the book of his that I always recommend to people new to him,  along with ‘Junkie’ his first book, a fictionalised memoir of heroin addiction. Both books have an overt through-line running from beginning to end that functions in lieu of a ‘plotline’, both expand subjective vision into something world-encompassing, bizarre and bordering- often tipping over- into alien dreamscapes.

A word of supposed issues of ‘difficulty’: Burrough’s prose has a bristling, tense quality that he often allows to disintegrate into seemingly disjointed and agrammatical poetry. This doesn’t happen “without warning” but is a feature of style, used to convey the impressionistic agrammatical nature of Thought, Dream and Character. This shift from style to a deliberate sort of ‘anti-style’ is based the ‘Cut-Up Method’, the random rearrangement of words in a  text to create a collage without the thought-conditioning influence of ordinary grammar.

Dream was important to William Burroughs. He dispenses with the conventions of traditional narrative often as abruptly as one’s dreaming mind will and with similar purpose- to communicate an urgent sense of a particular place, mentality or counter-intuitive connection, without the distancing affect of descriptive prose.

This aside, the writing is curt, concise and indeed precise. Burroughs picks his moment to go “experimental”,aiming to urgently communicate his concerns, concerns about the present, the forgotten past, concerns about an post-human future and above all the realities of CONTROL. You’ll also learn a lot about guns, shamanism and the occult and you’ll read about a lot of fine young men having sex with each other. Highly recommended for heads.

Review by Ruairi Conneely, Seven Towers Books.

A year ago today Stephanie and I were married in the small village of Oranmore outside of Galway city. It was a beautiful day, shared with family and friends (also the sun deigned to visit us as well).

Next Friday we will renew our vows so that relatives who were unable to attend our original wedding, what with being on the other side of the world and all, can join us in publically declaring our love for one another a second time.

Over the past few months I have made the acquaintance, and even developed some friendships, with a number of other bloggers. I had a nightmare vision of rushing home from my second wedding reception to publish that day’s review, so to avoid such an undignified event I sent out a request to some of the wonderful folk I have met through ‘A Book A Day…’

This is the email I sent -

I have a big favour to ask. See on April 15, almost one year after Stephanie and I were married, we have decided to hold a renewal ceremony so that our friends and family here in Australia can attend. Last time we did the deed in Galway and that’s quite a ways away from the placid surroundings of Bulli New South Wales.

Now weddings take time to arrange, much random things can occur, so I thought keeping to my usual schedule of a book a day would prove difficult. We never expected that it would take this long, which was one of the reasons we delayed having a ceremony like this until it became obvious we would be passing our first wedding anniversary.

What I propose is this. I am asking for each of you to write a review on a book of your choosing and forward it on to me before the end of the month. I do not expect you to stick to the same restrictions as myself, so no worries, this is not meant to be a speed-reading gamut. Also write as much as you want, totally up to you. I will schedule the reviews as a series of ‘guest reviewers’, on the site. If you have a blog of your own or a project you wish to promote, this could be a platform for you. In the introduction to each piece you could say a few words about yourself and describe what it is you produce.

Never fear, there is no pressure here with this request. I am going to be mailing a large number of fellow book lovers and bloggers, so if this proposal is not feasible for you I understand.

Just send me a mail to this address stating whether or not you’re interested. Either way, cheers for your support of the blog, it’s been great fun for me to write.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

The kindness and enthusiasm of the responses I received really touched my heart. My inbox is now full with reviews from all over the world, from Australia to Korea, Scotland across to my old stomping grounds in Dublin. I do not have words to express my gratitude.

Below I am listing the order of these ‘guest blogger’, reviews, which will be starting from tomorrow.

My thanks to everyone who is taking part – Stephanie and I are going to enjoy the rest.

Saturday 9 April – Jason Lim from Blurred Lights

Sunday 10 April – Stacey from Word of Mouse

Monday 11 April – Ryan from Geek of Oz

Tuesday 12 April – Colin from Too Busy Thinking About My Comics

Wednesday 13 April – Ruairi from Seven Towers Books

Thursday 14 April – Colin from It’s Bloggerin’ Time!

Friday 15 April – Oran Ryan

 

 

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