I just recently finished the short novel And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. This was a very unique story, told in alternating perspectives of two prominent characters in the story: Mike Ryko, written by Kerouac, and Will Dennison, written by Burroughs.
It was written in 1945 – a full decade before either author gained any notoriety for their work – and yet it’s reflective of both of their enigmatic and descriptive styles.
It’s classified as a mystery/suspense novel, but I don’t really see how it falls under the genre, with the exception of the murder that takes place at the end. There is no crime-to-be-solved feeling throughout the piece and it reads very similar to the stylization of Kerouac’s On The Road. In fact, I found the behavior of Phillip Tourian, the love interest of the piece, to be almost identical to the whimsical and play-by-ear fashion of Dean Moriarty from On the Road.
In doing a little research, I’ve learned that the book is based on the real-life murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr. Lucien had confessed to both Burroughs and Kerouac about the murder, and neither informed the police. As a result, both authors were actually arrested as accessories to the crime.
I found the writing to be more digestible than Kerouac’s normal work; less free-thought and more structure, something I found both refreshing and uncharacteristic. The voices of both authors worked well together, and I honestly would lose track of which author was writing frequently throughout the piece. As their writing matured, their styles distanced in their later works, but in this novel I found them to be almost eerily similar.
I strongly suggest reading this novel if you’re a Kerouac fan, as it’s a quick read (I consumed the novel in under two hours), it’s extremely “light” from a literary stand-point (I would consider it a watered-down introduction to Kerouacian style, and not the normal intellectual challenge), and it’s a glimpse at the young mind that would develop into the deep, introspective voice of the Beat Generation.
Happy reading, friends!
~ Victoria Elizabeth