Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Report: The Subterraneans

I've been meaning to get this one out for a several weeks now.

Title: The Subterraneans

Author: Jack Kerouac

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy screws it up due to his self-destructive tendencies. Set against a backdrop of a 1950s bohemian beat San Francisco artistic underground.

My thoughts:
Can you believe that I've been reading for 30 years and I've never read a novel by Kerouac? Well, up until about a month ago, that was the case.

It was a dirty little secret that I'd kept hidden away from my hipster friends. But now I can come clean.

I picked up The Subterraneans because I didn't know exactly what I'd be getting into with a Kerouac novel. I mean, I had some ideas. He is kind of legendary after all. But I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew, so I picked this novel because it's only 111 pages.

The plot is pretty simple. Leo Percepied falls in love with the beautiful Mardou Fox. He woo's her, wins her and then proceeds to undermine their budding relationship with a string of self-destructive abuses. He realizes his love for her too late, after he has already driven her away and into the arms of another member of the San Francisco underground.

Of course in a Kerouac novel like this, the plot isn't the main thing. Kerouac is known for his revolutionary style of writing and this book has it in spades.

Coming to Kerouac from McCarthy's The Road was a bit shocking. The Road is written in short declarative sentences. Anything extraneous is left out.

The Subterraneans on the other hand showcases Kerouac's jazzy, improvisational slang-laden stream-of-consciousness prose. It took a few pages to adjust my internal dialog to the 1950s sub-cultural vernacular and adapt to the pacing and rhythm of Kerouac's writing.

But once made, that adjustment allowed me to appreciate Kerouac's knack for writing. He definitely has a well-deserved reputation of having a way with words.

...the little white woolly particles from the pillow stuffing in her black almost wiry hair, and her puffed cheeks and little puffed lips, the gloom and dank of Heavenly Lane, and once more "I gotta go home, straighten out"- as tho never I was straight with her but crooked..."
The story is told in the tone of a literary genius who knows he's a literary genius but also knows that being a literary genius still doesn't make him any less of a sonuvabitch.

The interesting rhythm and word choices, the pacing and imagery all made this a quick and enjoyable read. I feel better now about taking a bigger bite of Kerouac and plan to in the near future.

Favorite quote:

"... the great tumescent turbulent turmoil alliterative as a hammer on the brain bone bag and balls, bang I'm sorry I was ever born..."
Rating: Recommended.

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  1. Good on you, doing some summer reading. I've been reading "books on cable" this summer. With my fast-paced lifestyle, it's the best way to "feed my mind" and keep up with all the God of War II playing my hectic schedule demands.

    Last month, I read The Sopranos, by James Gandolfini. It was published on HBO.

  2. You aren't alone in this Emaw...I've been reading for 32 years (and yes, I'm 33 and a half...thank you Electric Company!), and I've never touched Kerouac.

    But I prefer the novels set in the 50's by people like Salinger or the one I'm reading right now (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, who also wrote Cider House that book!). My tendency is to look for fiction based on English history, though, and I rarely stray from that tendency. (Owen Meany was a recommendation from the fiance, so I decided to give it a looksie after I finished my last one about Queen Elizabeth I. I love it so far!)

    Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that your range in reading impresses me. Holy shit, I'm a wordy bitch!

  3. Hey Chris, I read The Sopranos too but my copy was missing the last chapter. Not sure what happened there.

    Faith, thanks for the recommendations.

  4. I tried to read Jack once...bored me to tears. Not a big fan of his style.

  5. I tore through Kerouac, Burroughs and the like as a teen. It's good to know that Jack holds up.

    BTW, Owen Meany is one of my favorites.


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