Monday, 17 September 2012

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac (2.5/5)

The back says: Leo Percepied, aspiring writer and self-styled free-wheeling bum, gravitates to the subterraneans, impoverished intellectuals who haunt the bars of San Francisco. One of them is Mardou Fox, beautiful and a little crazy, whose dark eyes, full of suffering and sweetness, find recognition in Leo. But, afraid of his growing involvement, Leo sets out to destroy their love.

Exuberant and melancholy, Kerouac’s spontaneous prose flows across the pages. Written in three days, The Subterraneans is, like all Kerouac’s work, closely related to his own life while encapsulating his great vision of America.

Also included here is the novel Pic, the story of a young black boy who makes his own journey on the road.

I say: This was a huge disappointment – especially after having read, and loved, On the Road – and it’s mostly due to the prose. It’s choppy, erratic, grammatically unpleasing, and just full of continuous confusion as to who is speaking. Where I found On the Road to be intense and engaging, I find The Subterraneans to be forced and annoying.

I can see how it would only take him three days to finish this.

Another thing that bothered me was that Leo Percepied is Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac. Yes, both are semi-biographical works, but why bother changing the names when they are all the same character dealing with slightly different plots? And speaking of characters, they’re all so thinly portrayed and interchangeable I got bored.

And the “love story” was nothing to write home about.

Kerouac’s stream of consciousness prose reads like a stoner trying to tell you a story, and there’s only so much attention one can pay to that. Luckily, it was only 93 pages, and I give it 1.5/5.

Pic was a whole lot better; which isn’t really that much of a feat, to be honest. I liked the main character Pictorial Review Jackson and his brother Slim, who shows up one day in North Carolina to take his younger brother with him to New York. Pic, who is living with his aunt, is grateful to steal away in the night, and it’s all about their journey to the big city.

Unfortunately, this short story is written in my main pet peeve, dialect. I am not going to make assumptions about Kerouac writing in the vernacular of African Americans because, for all I know, he could have been a master at it. I just didn’t care for it, which is a shame, because the story wouldn’t have lost any of its authenticity had he written in grammatically correct English.

But then again, did Kerouac ever do that?

This is a genuine question because I’m scared to pick up any more of his works.

Either way, the prose reads like Kerouac, and I give Pic 3/5.

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