Jamnjazzz's Reviews > The Subterraneans

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac
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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 find negatives in all of those said good things. All in all, it is a couple months snapshot of what Jack Kerouac's life was, or would turn out to be. He loves his friends but at the same time doesn't hesitate to turn on them in an instant of alcohol fueled delusion and rage. How can one man can in one moment see the world through rose colored glasses and then next see it all crashing down around him in fits of paranoia. Well that is the riddle of Kerouac isn't it, because in the end he did succumb to those delusions and paranoia, and escape to his mom to be taken care of.

One thing about some of the most powerful Kerouac work is that it is not about an uplifting story, it is not about having some good underling message or meaning of life. Sometimes it's there (Dharma Bums) and sometimes it is just real (Big Sur). But whether it is real or uplifting it is the true story, if not of events, then of the emotions of Jack Kerouac. In that regard Kerouac was never more open and honest than in his writing, he laid it all out there, his soul for dissection. Here he loves a woman (Mardou) but as always can never let that love develop and take root, he uproots it before it can, just another self sabotaged relationship in a life of broken bonds.

Kerouac gets a bad name for being immature, being misogynistic and his use of racial terms. I can only say that he did reflect his reality, and the only true knock on him that I can see is immaturity...that he had in spades and there is no reason for it other than his own character. Late 1940s / Early 1950s America was a far cry from what we are today, and yes we still have a lifetime of marathons to go before we can say we no longer have racial and gender issues, but America in that age was much farther away from where we are today than we can imagine. When you are raised with certain notions from an very early age they are truths in you consciousnesses, automatic reflex so to speak. To get past those first you must identify them as wrong, second you must disavow them in you inner self and finally you must replace them with newer, more reflective versions of life, and then you need to fully commit to this and ingrain these new values in your self, replace your neural pathways so to speak in logic and thinking so that it all becomes automatic. Not easy or quick and for some people only doable in part, Kerouac tried but could never complete this task.

So as we read Kerouac from On The Road to Dharma Bums to Big Sur we see his ideals and optimism slowly leave him only to be replaced by darkness and despair. The early optimism of his discovery of Buddhism is replaced as he slips back into is ingrained devotion to Catholicism. Looking at the physical events that occur through any other means except his own point of view betrays his work. There is no message for anyone in his prose, there is only a communication of his own mind and emotions that are presented. And in this effort, he is one billions times successful, you feel his pain, his joy, his delusion and disappointment every step of the way, you are there on his journey through the fever, pain and betrayal in Mexico City, to the joy of summing in Dharma Bums and of the near alcoholic psychosis of Big Sur. You are there with him, first person experiencing it all...that's what makes Kerouac a great writer.
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Reading Progress

August 2, 2014 – Started Reading
August 2, 2014 – Shelved
July 1, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Seth (new)

Seth Kupchick I sometimes think all of the politically correct backlash against prose stylists like Kerouac, or Hemingway, for being sexist, racist, bigoted, etc., is a way to not really face their work, so thanks for getting past it. This is good heartfelt review about the deeper themes of Kerouac's self sabotage.


message 2: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa You are right . This time Kerouac is writing about himself .


Jamnjazzz Seth wrote: "I sometimes think all of the politically correct backlash against prose stylists like Kerouac, or Hemingway, for being sexist, racist, bigoted, etc., is a way to not really face their work, so than..."

I wouldn't call in 'political correct backlash' but just a revisionist point of view. I tend to think that the truths that we tend to hold ourselves to today, are different than the truths that were held almost 100 years ago. Kerouac was born in 1922, and in the first years of his life, he learned to navigate the world with a much different interface than anyone would now. We just can't have the same base knowledge and viewpoint as he did only someone born and raised at that time could. We can only try to understand him, even if we can never really do so.


message 4: by Vanessa (last edited Oct 04, 2017 06:58PM) (new)

Vanessa Well said . Very well said Jamnjazzz . Nothing follows .


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