Aberjhani's Reviews > The Subterraneans

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac
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's review
Aug 18, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Recommended for: Fans of beat lit, jazz, and the avant garde


THE SUBTERRANEANS is a novel remarkable for a number of distinctions, not the least of which is the report that Grand Beat Master Jack Kerouac wrote it in only three days. The book's analytical depths, structural complexity, and richness of language would make one more inclined to believe it took three years to write. To read this novel is to sink into a mesmerizing whirl of bebop jazz rhythms, uncompromising confession, and the audacity of raw images for which Kerouac and other Beat Writers were so well known.

Kerouac's main characters in THE SUBTERRANEANS are Leo, an Anglo-American, and his love interest Mardou, an African-Native American. The interracial nature of this relationship (supposedly based on a real-life one that Kerouac had in 1953) is not ignored but neither does it dominate the novel. A question clear from the beginning is not only whether or not Leo and Mardou can successfully navigate their very intensely fragile personalities and sustain a mutually satisfying relationship, but also whether or not they can survive the excessive weights of history and bigotry.

The entire culture of bebop jazz forms an important backdrop for the novel and Kerouac expresses his love for the music in short homages paid to some its giants, including saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker. Likewise, a number of Kerouac's Beat writer pals can be found (as in other works by him) in supporting roles in this novel: Allen Ginsberg as the character of Adam Moorad; William Burroughs as Frank Carmody; and Gregory Corso as Yuri Gligoric. This a true and thoroughly enjoyable American classic from one of our most true and thoroughly enjoyable writers. It's also a good book to read at a time when the world seems to be discovering and celebrating Kerouac all over again.

by Aberjhani
author of "I Made My Boy Out of Poetry"
and "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance" (Facts on File Library of American History)

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