this week's review

March 29, 1999

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The Book That Inspired William Burroughs to Write

the wild party

The Wild Party
Joseph Moncure March
illus. by Art Spiegelman
The story of a wild Prohibition-era Manhattan party is told in syncopated verse inspired by the jazz rhythms of the day. First published in a limited edition of 750 in 1928 and promptly banned in Boston, William Burroughs read it in 1938 and later explained, "It's the book that made me want to be a writer." It was reissued in a toned-down version in 1968, but it wasn't until after Art Spiegelman (Maus) chanced upon an original edition in a used book store that the complete text of the poem would find large distribution, now greatly enhanced by Spiegelman's signature illustrations which capture the jump and hustle of the rhymes. The result is a fusion of Gatsby-esque decadence and Frans Masereel's urban gloom that is titillating, exhilarating, and engigglating.
The book can be read in an hour but will stick with you much longer, which is easy to believe when you consider such memorable lines which taken out of context often sound like limmericks:

His woman at present was Mae.
She was blonde, and slender, and gay:
A passionate flirt,
So dumb that it hurt,
And better for night than for day.

The plot is simple: Queenie the burlesque showgirl and Burns the Vaudeville clown throw a wang dang doodle which quickly degenerates into drunkeness, infidelity, and violence. And though it depicts a down and dirty time, the verse is sophisticated as Cole Porter and the design is ultrastylish and tres moderne, the synergy of words and pictures as exuberant as Pull My Daisy.

Hot Tip for Teachers!

The Wild Party is the perfect companion to The Great Gatsby, capturing as it does the spirit of the one party where Nick Carraway ties one on. Also see The City and Flood! for more city stories. 


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© 1999 robert zverina