Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Early Stories and Other Writing

by Jack Kerouac & edited by Paul Marion

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88822-2
Publisher: Viking

Kerouac’s early writings—from ages 13 to 21—elucidate the formative years and provide insight into the later literature of the author’s career. It must be noted that even the greatest writers aren—t always recognizable by their high school and college scribblings. Poet Marion assembles a motley medley of Kerouac’s initial attempts, including his adolescent horse worship in “Repulsion May Race Here in Exhibition Feature!!,” excerpts from a football novella, and descriptive essays about his youth. Such pieces may be significant to the scholar tracking Kerouac’s artistic development and to his rabid fans (Kerouac’s following is often a zealous one), but they hold little value or interest to the general reader. The anthology bogs down with the author’s high school jazz criticism, sketches of a play he thought of writing, descriptions of his dreams, and poems in which he attempts to channel Walt Whitman’s ghost into his own pen. Though such writings provide a general background to Kerouac’s life and demonstrate his early interest in such themes as American life, travel, identity, and spiritual quests, they rarely stand as compelling works on their own. Also, many of the pieces are mere fragments, snippets of subject matter that caught his attention and that, for some reason or another, he never completed. The poetry of the collection fares slightly better, yet it suffers often from a jejune combination of Whitman-like rhetoric with slushy sentimentalism. A curmudgeon might say that, with rare exceptions, teenagers aren’t old or experienced enough to create much of real artistic value; Kerouac’s early efforts would fit such a maxim.