Okay, at the risk of offending a certain demographic, I need to admit that I don’t love Jack Kerouac.
Maybe it’s that I came to his work too late in life (not until my mid-thirties). Maybe it’s that I haven’t lived a life much related to the one that Kerouac describes in his loosely fictionalized memoir. I don’t know. But I find his characters shallow and his narrators detached in a way that disengages me, and his prose is so pared that it lacks all musicality to my ear, except sometimes when he speaks of jazz music.
But… I just read Kerouac’s Visions of Gerard, and I love it.
The book is typical Kerouac autofiction in its structure, but it’s unique in that it returns to his childhood to explore memories of his brother who died of an unnamed illness at just nine years old. Here, the characters – sickly Gerard, Ma, and Poppa – are anything but flat and shallow, depicted with a sensitivity and depth that is often heartbreaking. Here, the narrator is anything but detached, revealing himself and his emotions with affective intimacy. Here, the prose is anything but spare, allowing itself flights of mystical language that at times approaches the sensibility of prose poetry.
What a book! How wonderfully contrary to my expectations! Go read it!