Michael's Reviews > Tristessa

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac
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Mar 07, 07

liked it
Read in February, 2007

Despite suspicions (mostly my own) of anti-intellectuallism, I'm persisting with my investigation into books small enough to fit into one's jacket pocket. Clearly a book's worth cannot be measured in mass, but to what extent is it really possible to honor the peak of the sacred (the "novel") in less than, say, 150 pages? And to what extent can the formal consideration of length impact conventions in narrative, character development, etc.? My own pre-existing hypothesis is that a shorter format entitles the author to much greater formal liberties and, consequently, the potential for meaningful new ideas in literary structure and content. This appeals to me as a reader who is perpetually seeking new emotional and intellectual phenomena. To me, that's the whole point of reading (and writing).

Having said that, in the particular case of Tristessa, I don't know enough about Kerouac to know whether this (and his similarly-written Subterraneans) are sincere experiments in form or just written in a hurry. In any case, the book is short enough to sustain a high level of abstraction and fracturization of ideas, and to allow a narrative impression (of hopeless love) to grow out of the noise (of junkie hell). My only real criticism is of the lengths to which he didn't go to annihilate convention. Not that any writer is obliged to annihilate anything, but certainly he should finish what he starts? Ultimately my threshold for the bizarre never felt challenged, so I'd describe Tristessa as comfortably weird (a category consisting mostly of runners-up as far as I'm concerned), but easily worthy of approximately 1/4" of space on my bookshelf.
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