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The Subterraneans

(Duluoz Legend)

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  12,592 ratings  ·  487 reviews
Jack Kerouac, one of the great voices of the Beat generation and author of the classic On the Road, here continues his peregrinations in postwar, underground San Francisco. "The subterraneans" come alive at night, travel along dark alleyways, and live in a world filled with paint, poetry, music, smoke, and sex. Simmering in the center of it all is the brief affair between ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published 1994 by Grove Weidenfeld (first published 1958)
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3.68  · 
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 ·  12,592 ratings  ·  487 reviews

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Sam Jasper
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Dec 05, 2006 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, california
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."

Luís C.
Are the subterranean places where the thoughts are born in the deepest, in the darkest of Kérouac? Once again, he takes us "by the guts" and leaves us abandoned at the edge of a road less and less bright.

Lisbon Book-Fair 2016.
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: beatniks, fiction
There they are -- the Subterraneans -- drunk as skunks while they burble on about literature and their love lives. Jack Kerouac (Leo Percepied in the book) wants nothing more than spend all his hours with these pseudo-intellectual lowlifes, but at the same time attempt to maintain a relationship with Mardou Fox, a young black woman. The Subterraneans is the story of this relationship and how it winds to a close with Jack deciding in the end he wanted life on his own boozy terms.

The pity of it i
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
Aug 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-hero
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
Jun 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: jack-kerouac
I was going to rise, do some typing and coffee drinking in the kitchen all day since at that time work, work was my dominant thought, not love- not the pain which impels me to write this even while I don't want to, the pain which won't be eased by writing of this but heightened, but which will be redeemed, and if only it were a dignified pain and could be placed somewhere other than this black gutter of shame and loss and noisemaking folly in the night...
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
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
While at a used bookstore, I overheard two clerks in another aisle trying to decide where to shelve this book. They didn't mention the author or the name of the book, but location questions such as 'philosophy?' and 'biography?' and 'just plain fiction?' encouraged me to find their aisle and say, simply, "I'll take it." (Paperbacks were on sale that day for a quarter.) At that time, I had just finished Burrough's "Junky" and had just started on Ginsberg's poetry. Obviously, the universe conspire ...more
Michael Kress
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1950s
I'm just now starting to become familiar with the Beat generation. I thought Junky, by William Burroughs, was great, and Bukowski's first three novels were pretty good, so I wanted to check out something by the most popular Beat author. I see a few copies of On the Road in just about every used bookstore I visit, but I wanted to read something a little shorter, just to see if I liked Kerouac or not. That's why I chose The Subterraneans. The first thing I noticed was that the he hardly ever uses ...more
Dan Leo
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Written in three nights – and, yes, for good and ill it reads that way – it boils down to the story (according to Kerouac, a true story, with the names changed and the location switched from Greenwich Village to San Francisco) of a Canuck-American writer in his early thirties in the early 1950s who falls for a ten-years younger African American “bohemian” woman. They’re both fragile psychological messes, and he’s a drunk – the affair flairs up, burns bright, and then his drunken antics and his w ...more
David Highton
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I had not read any Kerouac for 30 years and saw this one in the library -written in his 'spontaneous prose' style which requires a lot of concentration to read and absorb. Set in San Francisco, with friends like Ginsberg and Burroughs disguised with pseudonyms, it tells of a love affair with a half-negro, half-Cherokee woman. The narrative is dominated by his drinking and his frustration at not being published is also obvious, and his alter-ego, Leo, is not a sympathetic character. Reputedly wri ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well... finally finished this book. I takes some effort to get into the rhythm and cadence of the prose in this one... This is one of Jack's spontaneous prose efforts, and once I did get into it, I moved quickly. OK so now for the review, I'll not consider the style in doing so.

This was an interesting story about a person searching for his path and purpose. A story about a man who would love you but push you away at the same time, a man who while able to adore everything good about you, could fi
Robin Friedman
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kerouac's American Bohemia

Kerouac's novel "The Subterraneans" is based on a summer love affair between Kerouac and a young black woman in New York City in 1953. The setting of the story was moved to San Francisco at the behest of the publisher.

The book tells the story of the love, and its end, between Leo Percepied, the Kerouac character, and Mardou Fox. Mardou is half Cherokee and half black. She has grown up in poverty in Oakland and has suffered serious emotional breakdowns. She has gone from
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classy-fiction
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
Oct 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
John Eastman
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For me this was a special experience, not necessarily because of the story but because of Kerouacs writing style, the language he uses leaves you behing speachless and its probably some of the best prose Ive ever read.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
BRNG book, BRNG story. The youth is overrated. Their thoughts, reflections and contemplations are overrated, poor and shallow. Every youth is trying to be cool with its wild lifestyle, drugs, alcohol and sex combined with supposedly deep thoughts they think and talk to each other.
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels-novellas
The protagonists of Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans and Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout (both versions of their respective authors) have lost or will lose a love interest. This loss will serve as the catalyst for the text's composition. Kerouac's The Subterraneans ends, like Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas , with the assertion that they, the author, will record or have recorded these events, thereby creating a text that seems to write itself. Brautigan's Sombrero F ...more
Ananya Ghosh
I want to give it 2.5 stars, and am waiting for Goodreads to let me do that someday. I'll also admit that this was my first ever Kerouac, first ever Beat generation text, and first ever stream-of-consciousness text, and I'm sorry but I didn't get most of it, especially, the charm behind it all.

When I went into it, I knew a few things. Kerouac is very popular, but is going to be difficult for me; this book isn't one of his most hyped ones; it's a break-up story. And with these few facts, I dived
Simon Kirk
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
TC Jones
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Zachary Johnson
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 22, 2007 rated it did not like it
I am occasionally dizzied or nauseated by the oddest things. Knitting with black yarn, for instance, or the novel "Nausea," of which I could not pass two pages. My reason for getting queasy with this novel, however, requires no exotic explanation. Poor grammar! Perhaps it could be mistaken for poetry in prose. A whirlwind of ideas, a maelstrom of images rushing towards the reader to allow him or her to experience the narrator's emotions and reactions. This approach may have worked, had these emo ...more
John Molina
Mar 26, 2015 rated it liked it
I really disliked this book at first. I thought Kerouac had gotten lazy and was just writing whatever the hell popped into his mind-- and he his. And that is what makes the novel has compelling as it is. Kerouac is doing stuff I haven't seen anyone do in American Lit, and Kerouac is just such a romantic and optimist that it is hard to hate the man. "The Subterraneans" is a book about a 3 month fling between Kerouac and a young black woman. Kerouac's writing is tender and moving; one gets the fee ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
David Rangel
Jun 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The thing I love about him is how he just opens up to all of us readers and pours out a piece of his soul in his very unique way.
Trying to understand the connection between all characters and the real people who inspired this was a hard task, but I will surely keep on trying to read every time a little more about the beats. The thing about them is they just expose their feelings without thinking. They just write and write and fill the pages with sentimentalism and pure self-laceration, which al
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Subterraneans has helped me fall back in love with Jack Kerouac's writing. This is a supremely poetic account of his doomed love affair with a mixed-race girl, visceral as only love can evoke. I wasn't a fan of his 'spontaneous prose' in Maggie Cassidy, but here it feels a lot more heartfelt and natural.

Another novella follows - an On the Road if you wish told from the perspective of Pic, a black boy who makes his way from North Carolina across the country to the promised land of the West Co
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The Perks Of Bein...: One paragraph review: Kerouac's The Subterraneans 1 16 May 12, 2013 12:15PM  

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Jack Kerouac was born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac 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.

Other books in the series

Duluoz Legend (1 - 10 of 14 books)
  • Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings
  • Visions of Gerard
  • Dr. Sax
  • The Town and the City
  • Maggie Cassidy
  • Vanity of Duluoz: An Adventurous Education, 1935-46
  • On the Road
  • Visions of Cody
  • Tristessa
  • The Dharma Bums
“beautiful insane
in the rain”
“The details are the life of it, I insist, say everything on your mind, don’t hold back, don’t analyze or anything as you go along, say it out.” 145 likes
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