Ordinarily I don't post reviews of famous California novels. That's partly because I read most of them long before I started the blog and haven't got around to rereading them. It's also because plenty of information on the books is readily available. While I did write something about The Subterraneans, I don't think it will make much of an impression among the thousands of sites -- Google found 38,300 -- related to the book.
The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac. Grove Press (1958), 111 pp.
Two participants in the San Francisco “beat” scene have a brief relationship in the early 1950s. One is an unsuccessful author and sometime seaman who lives with his mother and likes to hang around with gay guys. The other is a would-be sculptress, partly African American and partly Native American, who barely scrapes by on welfare. He’s just marginally interested in her feelings and only starts thinking of a long-term commitment when she begins to lose interest in him.
It’s not so easy to extract this book from the life and times of the beat generation. Critics seem to view it primarily as a roman a clef. To highlight the underground nature of the beats, Kerouac adopts a jumbled stream-of-consciousness style that is far removed from standard prose. Even so, the first-person narrator is a distinct literary creation –– not completely aware of how badly he is treating is girlfriend, overly impressed with the intellectual achievements of his friends, and coping not at all with issues of his sexual identity. Readers whose minds wander easily will have trouble with the style. Others will find the book not only a vivid introduction to the beats but a sad love story as well.