Sunday, September 5, 2010

beat generation masterpiece, "on the road," published 53 years ago today

on september 5, 1957, jack kerouac's breakthrough masterpiece, "on the road" was finally published by viking books. kerouac had written the book in 1951 - and most of the travels he had documented took place in the closing years of the 1940's. by his own admission, kerouac thought the beat generation days were already done and over when this particular book was finally released!

it was kerouac's second published book - 7 years after he had published "the town and the city." but "on the road" was light years removed from his current world - including his writing (since penning "on the road" kerouac had written another half dozen - as yet still unpublished - novels). still, publication of "on the road" was a major victory for kerouac. he knew that it was a major break from the traditional novel, traditional narrative, traditional grammar, traditional punctuation - for that matter.

it was for all those reasons, and even the subject matter itself, that made publishers gun-shy to release the book. even at viking, it had been under contract for years - but the editors kept hedging on an actual publication date. eventually - and in no small way - thanks to the publication and subsequent obscenity of "howl" and the flowering of the san francisco poetry renaissance - changing times pushed vikings' hand.

and we're forever grateful for that decision. here is the final paragraph of gilbert millsteins's seminal ny times book review - that launched kerouac into the american psyche:

There are sections of "On the Road" in which the writing is of a beauty almost breathtaking. There is a description of a cross-country automobile ride fully the equal, for example, of the train ride told by Thomas Wolfe in "Of Time and the River." There are details of a trip to Mexico (and an interlude in a Mexican bordello) that are by turns, awesome, tender and funny. And, finally, there is some writing on jazz that has never been equaled in American fiction, either for insight, style or technical virtuosity. "On the Road" is a major novel.

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