If Kerouac were writing today, his work might look something like this—and despite the title, many of the stories are indeed ours, as they focus on love and loss, pain and yearning.
The “stories” are not discrete fictional units as much as variations on different themes that recur as we move through the narrative. One theme is the narrator’s love of Catherine, who’s moved on both literally and figuratively, for she went to Paris and fell in love with a Spaniard, Manuelo. The narrator’s love for her is both intense and desperate, and he’s never quite gotten over her loss. Another leitmotif is the death of the narrator’s older brother, Carl, an event clearly even more traumatic than the loss of Catherine. The narrator’s agony over this death pervades many of the stories but especially “Before Carl Left.” The central character in the novel, however, is the narrator himself. Having been jailed and gone to rehab, and having had bizarre episodes following his participation in a peyote ritual, the narrator seems lucky to be alive. Even his turn at wearing a shirt and tie and teaching freshman composition at a small college in eastern Texas doesn’t domesticate him, as he lives close to the bone on a ranch he rents from Squeaky, a gay rodeo roper. In a final bit of ironic exuberance, the narrator urges us to “Find God. Find love, Find America” rather than read a book—especially the one we’re holding in our hands.
This is a fierce, untamed, riotous book—and from the first page you’ll know you’re not reading Jane Austen.