On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road - Beyond Baroque / Flickr

"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead." This central character of Kerouac's On the Road, Dean Moriarty, based on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady, embodies America, its criminal … [Read more...]

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac Dharma Bums - VincentX - Flickr

I encountered The Dharma Bums for the first time in college, on a classmate's shelf. She gushed about the book, but I was more interested in her roommate and didn't pay enough attention. Many years later, I finally read it on a lonely road trip through New Hampshire during an unusually cold May. Snow drenched the higher elevations and my camping experience became … [Read more...]

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac - Big Sur

Big Sur is often ignored by critics and Kerouac fans alike. We all want the freedom of On the Road, the craziness of The Dharma Bums — the celebration of the Beat lifestyle. We want young Jack living his American Dream of the road. But Big Sur shows what happens to Kerouac as fame and age taint that dream. "I'm just plumb sick and tired...of the whole nerve-wracking … [Read more...]

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac

tristessa

Jack Kerouac is primarily lauded for his keen understanding of male friendship. The female characters of On the Road or The Dharma Bums never really achieve the reader's interest the way the males do. But Kerouac is also a writer of exquisitely sad love stories, with complex and fully realized women: The Subterraneans, Maggie Cassidy, and Tristessa. In these tales we find to … [Read more...]

Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac

Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac

Like a weird, mutated ogre muttering to himself by the roadside, Jack Kerouac's Visions of Cody stands apart. As the author states in his short introduction, "I wanted a vertical metaphysical study of Cody's character and its relationship to the general 'America'." He has done this and more, erecting teetering thousand-foot sculptures of brilliant scrap metal by the macadam … [Read more...]

Vanity of Duluoz by Jack Kerouac

Vanity of Duluoz - erikorama / flikr

When Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 1935-46 was written in 1967, an overweight and severely alcoholic Jack Kerouac had only two years to live. Chronicling the years just before his adventures with Neal Cassady, his last complete volume takes Jack from the football fields of high school, to the dangerous seas of World War II, and finally to a New York City brimming … [Read more...]

Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac

Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac

Dr. Sax is one of Jack Kerouac's most troubling books for readers, peering behind the curtain of his childhood rather than exploring those later years of Beats and bodhisattvas. Nevertheless, it remains a startling achievement, unique not only among Kerouac's works, but among those books that it seems to mirror. It is primarily a book about growing up, similar to such … [Read more...]