Road Novels 1957–1960
On the Road • The Dharma Bums • The Subterraneans • Tristessa • Lonesome Traveler • journal selections
"In the beginning, there was Kerouac and he was good. Shiningly, brilliantly, audaciously good—so good that one runs out of adjectives that might do him justice, so good that rereading him brings a sense of relief that the sentences hold up on their own.... [Kerouac's work] marked the articulation of a new voice far more interesting for what the author had to say and the way in which he said it than for the technical breakthroughs that it was heralded—and scorned—for at the time."
— San Francisco Chronicle
The raucous, exuberant, often wildly funny account of a journey through America and Mexico, Jack Kerouac's On the Road instantly defined a generation on its publication in 1957: it was, in the words of a New York Times reviewer, "the clearest and most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as 'beat.'" Written in the mode of ecstatic improvisation that Allen Ginsberg described as "spontaneous bop prosody," Kerouac's novel remains electrifying in its thirst for experience and its defiant rebuke of American conformity.
In his portrayal of the fervent relationship between the writer Sal Paradise and his outrageous, exasperating, and inimitable friend Dean Moriarty, Kerouac created one of the great friendships in American literature; and his rendering of the cities and highways and wildernesses that his characters restlessly explore are a hallucinatory travelogue of a nation he both mourns and celebrates. Now, The Library of America collects On the Road together with four other autobiographical "road books" published during a remarkable four-year period.
The Dharma Bums (1958), at once an exploration of Buddhist spirituality and an account of the Bay Area poetry scene, is notable for its thinly veiled portraits of Kerouac's acquaintances, including Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Kenneth Rexroth. The Subterraneans (1958) recounts a love affair set amid the bars and bohemian haunts of San Francisco. Tristessa (1960) is a melancholy novella describing a relationship with a prostitute in Mexico City. Lonesome Traveler (1960) collects travel essays that evoke journeys in Mexico and Europe, and concludes with an elegiac lament for the lost world of the American hobo. Also included in Road Novels are selections from Kerouac's journal, which provide a fascinating perspective on his early impressions of material eventually incorporated into On the Road.
Douglas Brinkley, editor, is professor of history and director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University and the author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Four of his previous books were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. A contributing editor to Vanity Fair, he lives in New Orleans with his wife and two children, where he is working on a biography of Jack Kerouac.
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