Michiko Kakutani, writin in The New York Times on Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs' early collaboration:
The best thing about this collaboration between Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs is its gruesomely comic title: “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” a phrase the two writers said they once heard on a radio broadcast about a circus fire.
Kerouac, writing in the persona of Mike Ryko, tends to sound like ersatz Henry Miller without the sex or fake Hemingway without a war (“There was a long orange slant in the street and Central Park was all fragrant and cool and green-dark”); his chapters possess none of the electric spontaneity of “On the Road,” none of the stream-of-consciousness immediacy of his later work.
Burroughs, writing as Will Dennison, serves up passages that feel more like imitation Cain or Spillane: semi-hardboiled prose with flashes of Burroughs’s famous nihilism but none of the experimental discontinuities and jump-cuts of “Naked Lunch.” In fact, both writers lean toward a plodding, highly linear, blow-by-blow style here that reads like elaborate stage directions: they describe every tiny little thing their characters do, from pouring a drink to walking out of a room to climbing some stairs, from ordering eggs in a restaurant to sending them back for being underdone to eating the new ones delivered by the waitress.
I'm curious to look at the book to consider the role that imitation plays in the development of personal style. The beats use of found material has always been notable. It will be enlightening to see their clumsier attempts (even if it would make the writers themselves wince.)