The Portable Jack Kerouac Essay - Critical Essays

The Portable Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac is still the most famous fictionist of the Beat Generation more than a quarter century after his death at forty-seven, and Ann Charters has collected representative samples from his major works into one large “portable” volume. Unfortunately, as with any such collection, the reader gets only a taste of Kerouac from all the fragmentary excerpts and will have to turn to one of the complete novels, probably ON THE ROAD (1957), in order to get a fuller sense of what makes Kerouac such an important American writer.

In addition to the half dozen introductions and appendices, the body of THE PORTABLE JACK KEROUAC consists of seven sections, including selections of poetry and letters, essays on jazz and Buddhism, and theoretical pieces and applied examples of Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose” writing method. The bulk of the volume, and nearly three-quarters of its length, consists of eighteen short stories and excerpts form the major novels that form the “Legend of Duluoz” master work, written between 1951 and 1967. Arranged in chronological order, these segments range from Kerouac’s birth in 1922 (described in DOCTOR SAX in 1959) to an excerpt from BIG SUR (1962), when Kerouac is visiting the California coast and fighting the alcoholic paranoia that follows on his fame.

Like many American writers before him—Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—Jack Kerouac died before the full measure of his career could be taken. Still, he will continue to be a major twentieth century American writer not only because of his connection with the Beat generation—a term meaning “beatific” he coined in conversation in 1948 with John Clellon Holmes, to whom this volume is dedicated—but also because he helped to free American literature from its constraints after World War II. With this collection, Charters gives readers the first comprehensive overview of this American literary pioneer.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCI, February 15, 1995, p. 1054.

Choice. XXXII, January, 1995, p. 782.

Gentlemen’s Quarterly. LXV, February 2, 1995, p. 70.

Library Journal. CXX, January, 1995, p. 101.

The New Republic. CCXII, April 24, 1995, p. 43.

The New York Times Book Review. C, April 9, 1995, p. 2.

The New Yorker. LXXI, March 27, 1995, p. 96.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, February 13, 1995, p. 64.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction. XV, Spring, 1995, p. 161.

San Francisco Chronicle. March 19, 1995, p. REV1.

Whole Earth Review. XV, Spring, 1995, p. 95.