The lives of the Beat Poets are something I’ve been in love with for ages. I just can’t resist the romanticized tragedies of their lives and the film Kill Your Darlings, certainly made me love them even more and tossed me headfirst into reading everything I could find about Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and – of course – Lucien Carr. When I learned that Kerouac and Burroughs wrote a fictional retelling of when Carr killed David Kammerer, I was all over that. I was even more excited when the fancy second-hand book store in my neighbourhood had a first edition copy of that same book.
And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is the story of Will Dennison and Mike Ryko, the two narrators written by Burroughs and Kerouac respectively, as they go about their bohemian lives in New York and deal with their friends’ troubles. When one of their friends, Phillip Tourian, decides he is desperate to get away from the affections of Ramsay Allen, he and Ryko make a plan to ship out with the war relief and run away to Paris. For those who know what happened in the true story, I don’t need to remind you that this plan doesn’t exactly work out.
What I wanted from this was Kill Your Darlings. I was hoping for more about the murder, more scrambling during the aftermath. I was really hoping for a fun insiders look at what happened even if it was only a functionalization. Sadly what I got was a bunch of drunken youths for 80% of the book and then maybe twenty pages at the end involved the murder.
The writing style was interesting to see because this was written many years before Burroughs and Kerouac truly became famous but published only in more recent years. Knowing how the two authors came to write, it was kind of cool to see how they grew and developed as writers. Honestly though, the best part about this book was the afterword by James W. Grauerholz, who broke down more of the history behind the events of Kammerer’s death. I’m sad to say I was disappointed in it, but I think that might result in being too connected to the original story.
Ginsberg and Carr honestly mean so much to me, so – again – I think that had something to do it with. Either way, I’m happy to have read it and learn even just a little bit more from the afterword.