The Subterraneans
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The Subterraneans (Duluoz Legend)

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  8,713 ratings  ·  322 reviews
Written over the course of three days and three nights, The Subterraneans was generated out of the same ecstatic flash of inspiration that produced another one of Kerouac's early classic, On The Road. Centering on the tempestous breakup of Leo Percepied and Mardou Fox--two denizens of the 1950s San Francsico underground--The Subterraneans is a tale of dark alleys and dark...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published January 27th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1958)
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On the Road by Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums by Jack KerouacBig Sur by Jack KerouacThe Subterraneans by Jack KerouacOn the Road by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac's Best
4th out of 19 books — 70 voters
The Joy Luck Club by Amy TanTales of the City by Armistead MaupinChina Blues by Ki LongfellowThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
San Francisco Bay Area Fiction
16th out of 178 books — 138 voters

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Sam Jasper
I am an admitted Kerouac fan and I think most people who read Kerouac begin and end with On the Road, which was of course groundbreaking in its day. I loved On the Road and have read it repeatedly on and off over decades. Subterraneans, however, sat on my shelf in the I'll-get-to-it pile. This book (more a novella than an novel)chronicles his affair with Mardou Fox (Alene Lee was her real name), a young black woman. While some have called it racist, and others misogynistic (the Beats weren't the...more
A profoundly sad novel. I fall in and out of love with Kerouac's prose, but his story rips your heart out. It was recommended to me by a colleague who told me that this book is about "people who make decisions by not making any choices."

Ryan Milbrath
Written in 1958, The Subterraneans is Kerouac’s attempt at a memoir about the time-honored literary theme of relationships. At a superficial level, it is merely a novella about how a relationship can crumble in the face societal pressures. However, like relationships, one should never take a person, or written work, at merely face value. The Subterraneans is much more than a romance in the vein of “He’s just not that into you.” The relationship itself is something of taboo in the 1950s, Kerouac’...more
Jun 25, 2008 Andy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: drunken poseur buddhists
Shelves: jazznbeats
Kerouac's kind of a dick in this one, whining and chasing after this black girl Mardou all through the book. Once she caves in to his non-existent charms he dumps her like he's Tommy Lee or something.
When he's not crying for her to take him back he's busy fetishizing her blackness like she's a pickaninny doll and then drunkenly makes in-crowd jokes to his pals about Buddha and Boddhisatva. What a shithead.
Oh, Jack. As always, the enthusiasm and momentum in his writing is infectious. I haven’t read anything by Kerouac for a few years before picking this one up, and I’d forgotten about the weirdness of trying to settle into it like it’s a linear story intended to be clearly followed in detail when really it’s a tilt-a-whirl kind of ride not about to stop and explain itself so all I can do is hang on, watch the colors spinning past, catch enough bits and pieces of the conversations and memories to b...more
Craig Werner
Urban legend has it that On the Road is the primary example of Kerouac's "spontaneous prose," but the description works much better for The Subterraneans, for better and for worse. (He actually reworked On the Road heavily before it was published, but wrote TS over a three day period. It took me slightly longer to read it.

Let's start with the "for worse" part. Man, Kerouac could be a sexist pig. The cavalier treatment of women in TS will drive many readers bat-shit. It's an honest and accurate p...more
Jorge García
"Los subterráneos" es una música para ser oída de noche, con sus largos fraseos que suben y bajan, bocanadas de aire etílico y versos que estallan contra la ciudad: San Francisco, ciudad de maricas, poetas y vagabundos.
Tened cuidado de no perderos en esta ciudad subterránea, de andar por la calle equivocada, en la que todo envejece mal: el canto por el amor perdido, la energía sexual que fluye por las páginas, o ese amor pagano. Tal vez no sea más que el culto a sí mismo del dios Kerouac.
David Hartzheim
Having finished reading Jack Kerouac’s classic The Subterraneans, one feels as though one has been embraced and punched in the guts at the same time. Harmonious near-poetry one minute, it becomes a phonetic cacophony the next. The book is the on-again off-again love story of Leo and Mardou, San Francisco bohemians in the midst of the beat movement in the 1950s. Told in Kerouac’s trademark style: stream-of-conscious run-ons - a single sentence sometimes taking up the better part of a page, it’s t...more
As one of the founders of the Beat Generation, author Jack Kerouac is now ironically reaping the rewards for his works back in the 1950s and early '60s, despite his unexpected death in 1969 at the ripe age of 47.

His 'innovative' use of spontaneous prose has been passed on as inspiration for many who dabble in the art of literature, while many modern musicians also stake claim in being influenced from the Lowell, Massachusetts born writer.

The Subterraneans - like many of Kerouac's novels - took l...more
In my spin through Kerouac's books, my friend said after reading On The Road and The Dharma Bums that my next task should be The Subterraneans.

Apparently, he wrote this 110-page book in only three days. While the bulk of On The Road was written in this way, making it an American classic, I have to say that for this book, it didn't work as well.

Here, Kerouac shows a more poetic than prosaic style. The sentences seem more like lyrics than in the other two books. Yet here that seemed to take away f...more
Nov 28, 2008 Csencsitz rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who enjoy Kerouac or are into that sort of ideal.
I really loved this book. Jack Kerouac, for all his iconic writing and cliche beatnick status, still manages to capture the life and thoughts of the younger generation who were simply looking for any sort of adventure. That is, they have their own dreams and attempt to reach them. Kerouac shows their growth and takes his readers through the realization that things aren't like they expected them to be. Somehow, though, even though this sort of melancholic epiphany seems to be common for his endin...more
TC Jones
I really wanted to like this book. I tried my hardest to understand its unique style, its flowing movements lacking punctuation, and the free-form stream of conciousness. The problem was, I just couldn't. The narrative itself wasn't all that exciting; a lot of getting drunk and scoring with women, but not anything substantial that makes a worthwhile story.

I had trouble identifying with the characters or even liking them. They were drunk all the time, driven for nothing in life except sex and se...more
Zachary Johnson
Ahh, The beat generation. What an Isle of Misfit Toys. I think from most of the books I have read, the ones from the beat generation are the most interesting. I haven't secured a copy of On the Road But when I do I will fully judge Jack Kerouac. Moving on to this book. I was rather interested in the main character at the beginning of the book. He is a Vagabond/Sailor/Hippie in the San Francisco area. He has a group of friends that pretty much do nothing more then sit around and drink and smoke T...more
This is the third book by Kerouac I have read, and without fail, they all have an unusual raw emotional gravity about them. This book is short burst of linguistic invention--supposedly written in only three days, and it reads as such. It weighs in at a little over 100 pages, but is full of love, disgust, drunkenness, excitment, and the peculiar next-day regret hangover. It does not match either On the Road or The Town and the City in terms of overall narrative power, but is a strangely compellin...more
Mario Gámez
Jul 21, 2013 Mario Gámez rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mario by: Miguel Soto
Entre pausas (de otros dos libros por párrafo) logré completar esta obra. No me gustó, sin embargo reconozco su valor como una buena crónica de la generación beat en su apogeo, una especie de autobiografía de Kerouac (sus roces con otros escritores que "sí llegaron a la fama rápidamente"), y una historia de amor (¿Bizarra? ¿Inusual? ¿O como cualquier otra?) que termina poniendo al protagonista en la friendzone, O Discordia.

Tanta borrachera me hizo odiar mi gusto por una buena cerveza de vez en c...more
Not my favorite Kerouac. I like this, though:
... with the balloon Mardou had (drunk) danced around the floor, puffing and poooshing and flupping it up with dance interpretive gestures and said something that not only made me fear her madness, her hospital type insanity, but cut my heart deeply, and so deeply that she could not therefore have been insane, in communicating something so exactly, with precise – whatever - “You can go now I have this balloon.” – “What do you mean?” (I, drunk, on floo
Kerouac's stream of consciousness style is perfect for narrating a jumbled, tangled, thorny love affair with a woman he can't pull himself together enough to keep but nonetheless mourned enough to write a book about, documenting their passionate flame/flame out. Subterraneans was written in three days/nights, and its pacing reflects the rush of ideas Kerouac was having at the time--about this dark skinned woman, about drinking, about jealousy, about the ways these pieces all tore at one another....more
How did he become a writer?!

The Subterraneans is a good example of Kerouac's attempt at trying to establish a Beat prose-style. After having read or attempted to read (seeing as I still have to finish reading the novel) On the Road, I was surprised by the ending of the Subterraneans as well as its more apparent plot. The subject matter was different from what I expected to find in a work by Kerouac. It took me a while to get used to the style again and at times I found it difficult to continue reading. Still, especially af...more
I confess I struggle with the spontaneous prose of Kerouac at times, and I found that particularly true in the first half of The Subterraneans, but I loved this book, and wanted to start it all over again as soon as I'd finished. Sometimes the images he creates in the mind are so vivid it's as though I'm there, watching through a window. This, for instance, from a scene not long after they've met, where Mardou is sitting on Leo's lap, telling him her life story: "Her little brown hand is curled...more
His style is so rhythmic and fun, you realize that it's sometimes okay not to make any sense, and I think maybe his intention was not to be (completely) understood. The Subterraneans is a fictional autobiography of Kerouac's crushed love. You read the hundred-something page story and finish it feeling as though you walked through smoke, a little dazed and benumbed by Kerouac's emotional honesty and feeling the smoke follow after your steps as the last lines state, "And I go home having lost her...more
There is no reason not to hate this book: Leo Percepied, the protagonist of ‘The Subterraneans’, is Kerouac’s alter ego – and he is every bit as arrogant/megalomaniac, chauvinist and ambiguous in terms of race and gender politics as I imagine the Beat author to be.

But then, when it comes to the writing itself, the raw stuff – I can’t seem to find a good reason not to love this book … with its hypnotic, sometimes agonisingly long-wided and confusing sentences. This strangely mesmerising and lush...more
Well, I love Kerouac, but I only liked this book. It's a stream of consciousness, frenetic paced thing, that I found a bit hard to follow, and at times, tedious to read. Basically, it is the story of Jack's brief romance with "Mardou Fox", a young African-American girl he meets in San Francisco. But Jack seems a bit crazy in here, sort of bi-polar, and definitely alcoholic. Some issues with race. Lots of mother issues too! He basically loves this gal, and wants to figure out how to be rid of her...more
The closest thing to a pure love story Jack wrote.
The story: boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl. Alcohol most definitely involved. Also mental instability. A patina of half-hearted revenge and full-throated self-loathing. Literary bebop, readable but jittery. Written (1953) before On The Road hit the big time and dragged Kerouac along with it, but after he had become a visible member of the group he had dubbed the Beat Generation. Mardou Fox (version of Alene Lee) is half-African-American, half-Native-American, and Kerouac's "first-world" doubts ar...more
Again, not my favorite by him. It's interesting, of course, a good read, and absorbing, as his writing always is.

What was worthy about it is his ability to accurately the twistiness of emotions that come from anxiety-inducing situations. In this case, the situation is a relationship that is weird and not really a relationship, one that can't last. He feels a connection, but can't seem to build on it. It's a beautiful example of how fickle and strange people can be, especially in their interactio...more
I’ll start by saying that I’m a big fan of Kerouac, but I just couldn’t get into this book. It’s written in his typical free-thought style of prose, but this time it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. At least not for me.

The story is about a failing romance between Kerouac and an African-American woman, Mardou Fox, who likes to go to jazz clubs. They have a group of friends that smoke “tea” (cannabis) and drink heavily. Kerouac often mentions his drinking problem, which was causing a rift between him...more
Drew Barth
I started reading The Subterraneans only a few months after finishing On the Road for the first time. The excitement leading up to it was tremendous, I hadn't heard a thing about this previously, but I could be assured it was to be on the same level of Beat merit as its predecessor.
Was I wrong?
Everything about it felt muddled and incomprehensible, the entire idea of the Stream of Consciousness style of writing was applied to the publishing with no editing or reading over before putting it...more
Mardou e Leo, le caves di Frisco, il jazz, l'alcool, l'amore e le droghe: il romanzo più sensuale di Kerouac.

"Quando rido lei mi guarda con gli occhi piccoli rotondi neri che si nascondono sotto le palpebre perchè ride forte (storcendo tutto il viso, mostrando i dentini, creando luci dovunque)(la prima volta che la vidi, da Larry O'Hara, nell'angolo, ricordo, avvicinai il viso al suo per parlare di libri, lei aveva volto la faccia accosto alla mia, era un oceano di cose che si squagliavano e aff...more
jean lice
The Subterraneans is one hell of a crazy ride. Kerouac's stream of consciousness flows endlessly over the pages, without giving you any break to stop for a minute. It just goes on and on and on, without a lot of periods but instead with whole passages and paragraphs in brackets. Thus making it sometimes very hard to follow the detailed and at some places obscure descriptions, other times letting you really go with the flow and find the most remarkable phrases and the most beautiful words of love...more
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The Perks Of Bein...: One paragraph review: Kerouac's The Subterraneans 1 13 May 12, 2013 12:15PM  
  • Go
  • The Fall of America
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  • Kerouac: A Biography
  • Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac
  • Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac
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  • Jack Kerouac: Angel-Headed Hipster
  • Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
  • Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution
  • Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)
  • The Happy Birthday of Death
Born on March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac's writing career began in the 1940s, but didn't meet with commercial success until 1957, when On the Road was published. The book became an American classic that defined the Beat Generation. Kerouac died on October 21, 1969, from an abdominal hemorrhage, at age 47.
Early Life

Famed writer Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Lebris de Keroua...more
More about Jack Kerouac...
On the Road The Dharma Bums Big Sur Desolation Angels On the Road: The Original Scroll

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