TRAINSONG by Jan Kerouac


Email this review


This second autobiographical novel from Jan Kerouac (Baby Driver, 1981) chronicles her gritty progress into her 30s. Drifting from man to man in a blind search for self and sensation, she ponders two scant memories of Daddy Jack, who remains as empty and remote as a Zen koan. Kerouac returns from South America (the climax of Baby Driver) to her mother and young brother in rural Washington. A chip off the old beat block, she needs nurturing as much as adventure, so she drifts into a winey affair with alcoholic Alphonso, but then sheds him to play house with Melvin and Bertrand, hip young misfits from N.Y.C. Bertrand and Jan travel to N.Y.C. to marry, using Bertrand's wedding money to hop a Yugoslav freighter to Casablanca and Tangiers (Jan remembers seeing a photo of her father there). It's a dreary trip that sends them to London, then back to New York. After a stay in Queens, they head back to the Northwest. In Oregon, Kerouac ditches Bertrand for a fellow fry-cook who gets her in trouble with the Oregon law (kiting checks). She escapes to California, landing a bit part in the movie Heartbeat, about her father. Her aimless odyssey continues, back to Washington and on to Boulder (during a visit to kindly Allen Ginsberg's house there, Peter Orlovsky prods Jan to dredge up a memory of taking her father by the hand to a liquor store). On and on she goes: ""This is it. I feel the earth tremble and watch the ants day after day."" Nothing for fans of dad Jack (who's just a plot device here) in this slapdash effort. With its thin characterizations, this is a wincingly directionless and poorly written book.

Publisher: Henry Holt