It was the spring of 1943 when a then 21-year-old Jack Kerouac, during a stretch in the Merchant Marine, wrote his first-ever book. It would never see the light of day until its recent publishing. The young writer worked furiously on this when he wasn't attending to his duties as a seaman. What it reveals are bits and pieces of a master wordsmith who, ten years later, would capture the imagination of an entire generation with his breakthrough novel, On the Road.
The book shows Kerouac's turmoil within himself reflected
onto the two main characters: merchant seaman Wesley Martin and Columbia University professor Bill Everhart. Much of the book is based on a back-and-forth dialog.
While some of the passages do tend toward the abstract and sometimes boring,
there are paragraphs of simple prose that gives hints of the wonderfully unique
bop prosody that was only a few years away from emerging. Here Kerouac describes
a solitary moment aboard the ship:
"In the East now the sun had sent forth its pink heralds; a long sash laned to the ship, like a carpet of rose for Neptune. Wesley leaned on his broom and watched for he sunrise with silent, profound curiosity. He had seen sunrise everywhere but it never rose in the shaggy glory that it did in North Atlantic waters, where the keen, cold ocean and smarting winds convened to render the sun's young light a primitive tinge, a cold grandeur surpassed only in the further reaches of the north. He had seen wild colors off the Norwegian North Cape, but down here off the top of Maine there was more of a warm, winey splendor in the sunrise, more of a commingling of the South with the North."
Here was a young writer with all the tools and bursting at the seams in at attempt to learn how to use them. If you're a Kerouac fan, you'll want to read this. If you've never read Jack start with On the Road, get the rhythm and the pace of him in your blood, and then return here.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Steven Rosen, 2012