Mat's Reviews > Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings

Atop an Underwood by Jack Kerouac
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's review

it was amazing

This book was truly an excellent surprise! Reading this book shows you just how good Jack already was when he wrote these stories (I think he was around 20 when he wrote 'The Sea is My Brother'). My favourites in this collection were the selected excerpts from 'The Sea is My Brother' (which incidentally is not only believed to be Jack's first-ever novel but one which has just been published for the first time last month), a short story on baseball called 'Rookie Nerves' and a short piece he wrote the night before he and his family moved house (called something like ‘Farewell My Trees’). This latter short story literally moved me to tears as I recalled the near-forgotten sad feeling of leaving your childhood home forever. Only Kerouac is able to stir up and recreate those feelings and that is one of the many reasons why he is so dear in the hearts of his fans. This language is so vivid and visceral that you can feel the language almost crawl under your skin. Suddenly, you can see, breathe and hear all those 'word-sound brushstrokes' that Jack so magically paints.
Don't listen to the critics (like Capote) who called Jack's work 'typing'. Most of the journocritics (Capote excepted) are just wannabe failed writers themselves who couldn’t write an epic like ‘The Town & the City’ to save they life. Hence, what do they do? They become ‘journalists’ who can only write short columns and judge Jack's work and literary success with evident bitter jealousy. Although Jack had yet to develop his 'spontaneous bop prosody' for which he is so famously celebrated in novels like 'On the Road', 'The Subterraneans', 'Visions of Cody' and more, the quality of his writing in this collection offers much support for what his biographer Anne Charters said: "frankly he could write any style you like". Kerouac has often been criticized as being 'childish'. However, I feel that this is one aspect of his personality and set of values (out of many others) that has been devastatingly misunderstood. Remember Kerouac was a Catholic (or Catholic/Buddhist). I am not a full-blown Christian myself, so do not think that I am trying to evangelize in any way but let us recall the words of Matthew 18:3 from the Bible for the purposes of literary argument: "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" Given his strong innate spirituality and Catholic upbringing, it is quite easy to see how Jack might have perceived 'childishness' in a positive light, unlike most of us in the modern age who have become incredibly cynical and arrogant as ‘adults’.
Finally, I think that even in the 21st century, Jack's refreshingly honest and child-like (and remember I mean that in a positive way) reverence for and celebration of life serves as an important wake-up call to everyone one of us when we get too hung up on our jobs or other trivial stuff that there are plenty of moments and things out there amid the mad maelstrom that we know as ‘life’, staring us in the face every day, beckoning us to bear witness and take part. These fleeting stolent moments of our life are beautiful tableaus, which should be celebrated (through living) and which should be remembered to the full (through writing) and I think that’s what Jack was all about. Jack considered it his divine mission to record all what he witnessed for posterity. And what a legacy he has left behind for us readers too.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 5, 2011 – Shelved
December 5, 2011 – Finished Reading

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