Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac: And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks

Before they were Beat heroes, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac teamed up to write a crime novel together, based in part on the fallout of 1944, when their friend Lucien Carr stabbed an older admirer and tossed his body into the Hudson River. But publishers roundly rejected the result, whimsically titled And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks. By the time the authors were famous, Carr had been released from prison and sought to dissociate himself from his wild youth, which is why both authors' estates mothballed the novel until he died in 2005.


Perhaps they needn't have bothered; the murder is an afterthought in the lives of the protagonists, New York newcomer Will Dennison (written by Burroughs) and Mike Ryko (written by Kerouac), a merchant mariner. Mike and his friend Philip Tourian, "the kind of boy literary fags write sonnets to," scheme to get jobs aboard a Europe-bound freighter so they can jump ship and go to Paris, far from the clutches of Mike's older, unbalanced admirer Ramsay Allen. Poor Will's primary function in the novel seems to be providing an apartment where his buddies, including Mike and Philip, can crash in the middle of the night and tell him what everyone else is doing. As in life, both men become accessories to the crime when Philip confesses to them, but his anguish over whether to turn himself in is resolved in just a few chapters. Will, Mike, and friends mosey from bar to apartment and back again for most of the book; its most suspenseful moments are tied up in a story Ryko tells about a wild weekend on shore leave in Boston.

Still, here and there these slack tales show glimpses of who the writers would become, particularly Kerouac. He later wrote Carr's story into almost all his novels, including his debut The Town And The City, and some of Mike's musings on life could easily have come from On The Road's Sal Paradise. Burroughs seems to have been saddled with the job of keeping the plot moving, at which he's merely adequate, but his stabs at writing like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett are fun in their failures. The book's years fermenting in Kerouac's mom's house didn't turn it into a hard-boiled noir, but even its inexpert handling of a real-life crime sheds some light on its creators' early lives.