Shoving Off

Will those of us who wandered America with a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in our knapsacks find anything to like about Kerouac’s first novel written when he was 20? Probably. Many of the themes Kerouac explored in that book and those that followed, especially Doctor Sax, the Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums, are tried on for size. There’re discussions of class, labor, the writer’s role in a changing society, and the worth of experience and friendship. In what now seems obvious foreshadowing, there’s plenty of drunkenness. Bill Everhart and Wesley Martin become friends during a single night of drinking and Martin convinces the impressionable Everhart to hitchhike to Boston and join the Merchant Marine. This set-up frames conversation, introspection, and sentimentality. Mention is made of an important Kerouac influence, Thomas Wolfe. Similarities between a Kerouac contemporary, James Jones (From Here To Eternity) can be detected here long before each man had his first novel published. The Sea Is My Brother is out of the American fiction school that fell between the Depression and the end of World War II, a time of great social and artistic change. Jones, a decade later, clung to that era. Kerouac transcended it. Would those of us who love Kerouac now have loved this book in our knapsack days? Probably not; it’s overwritten and occasionally laughable in its youthful seriousness. Would any of today’s readers unfamiliar with Kerouac like it? No.–Cabbage Rabbit

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