Jack Kerouac was one of the biggest "hand jobs" in modern American literature, and it is sickening to realize how few critics have got the balls to say ANYTHING negative about the guy. In my last Blog, which covered the masterful Hubert Selby, Jr. I was almost tempted to mention that he and Kerouac once shared literary Agents... not because I thought it significant (quite the opposite) but because somebody else had emphasized that factoid. I wrote about Kerouac in March, 2007 using his work as one example of Creative Non-fiction (CNF)... not quite fact, not quite fiction.
I mentioned that the original scroll-manuscript for ON THE ROAD was itself clocking mileage on a national tour. Just recently I found out why, by reading an interesting piece on a V.O.A. website. VIKING and PENGUIN have published special 50th Anniversary editions of the original scroll manuscript, for the completest among Jack's legion of fanatics. As for me, I have no more time or shelf space for the man. I have Ann Charters' excellent 1973 book KEROUAC: A Biography which convinces me that Jack's most interesting period was during World War 2, when he offered some indifferent service to the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy and was having trouble keeping his crackers from crumbling. I know there is a whole book in the 1940-45 years if any American writer has the guts or investigatory skills to handle it.
Kerouac in civilian clothes. A portrait from his WW2 U.S.N. file.
The U.S. Merchant Marine experience is something which Kerouac and Hubert Selby Junior do have in common, but Jackie Boy worked so vigorously to obscure his past that it will take skill to pin the tail on the donkey... not that I expect it anytime soon. As I've written before, "We expend more energy on making our lies persuasive, than we do attempting to make the truth work for us." Much of Selby's fiction is unquestionably drawn from personal observation, and in limited cases personal experience. The difference is that it is honest fiction and he made no attempt to "define an age" or stage-manage a public persona which might risk dominating the work itself. In simple terms Selby was an honest man. Pity poor Jack.