An eclectic sampling of the many facets of the legendary peripatetic writer, selected from assorted journals and notebooks Kerouac kept during the time he was working on his first two novels.
Editor Brinkley acknowledges that this is not for scholars: he has silently cut portions, rearranged others, eliminated the author’s doodles and marginalia, and supplied only a modest number of footnotes. Instead, this is an edition for temperate Kerouac fans (true fanatics must await a more scholarly treatment) and for those handful of folks who have never heard of On the Road. Still, the footnotes are not always complete (Brinkley’s comment about Hecuba, for example, neglects to mention that Kerouac is alluding to Hamlet in the passage); nor does the editor gloss every allusion (he neglects to tell us that a Randolph Scott film Kerouac refers to is probably Trail Street, 1947). Cavils aside, the volume has numerous virtues, the most significant of which is the much more capacious Kerouac it reveals. Readers who know him only as a “Beat Generation” writer will be surprised to see the depth of his religious struggles (included are some psalms Kerouac composed) and to learn of his devotion to his mother. Some readers may marvel that one of his favorite novelists was Anthony Trollope, that he loved Major League baseball (in some passages he compares his performance to a hitter’s), that he chided himself occasionally for not working out at the Y, that he revised repeatedly and tenaciously (no “automatic writer,” Kerouac). Readers will probably not be surprised to read his accounts of binge-drinking (he died of cirrhosis at 47), of his passions for Melville, Dostoyevsky, and Twain, of his obsessions for travel (back and forth across the country, time after time). In these journals appears some of that Whitmanesque energy and effluence and exuberance (and superfluity) for which his fiction is known.
Brinkley’s intelligent choices allow us to see both the familiar Kerouac and a mysterious stranger as well.