cover image The Portable Jack Kerouac

The Portable Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac. Viking Books, $27.95 (656pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84957-4

Much as Viking's Portable William Faulkner rekindled interest in Faulkner because his editor, Malcolm Cowley, had the brainstorm of pulling together a map of Faulkner's epic Yoknapatawpha County series of novels and stories in order to give the work a new coherence, so Kerouac gains new stature as a result of labors by his biographer, Charters (Kerouac: A Biography). Here she chronologically excerpts the perhaps 16 volumes of the Legend of Duluoz to create a map of Kerouac's oeuvre, which, according to the publisher, he had planned before his death. She supports it not only with fat slices of Kerouac's best writing but also with an investigation into his bop prosody that gives his jazz-riff style a new currency. In fact, this volume may deal a fist in the face of the English sentence, because Kerouac's revamping of the sentence is so song-filled and emotion-ridden that its properties could well do for American prose what Whitman did for verse: give it new life. An alcoholic jamming by candlelight with scotch and pot on the kitchen table, he mixes jazz with Rimbaud's derangement of the senses to create a vehicle for his own anguish as he recollects his life on the run. The Portable shows Kerouac at his best as a riff artist but also gathers to stronger effect than any single Kerouac novel. Includes selections from his poetry and experimental novels. (Mar.)