Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
Great American novel
Click here for larger image of this wonderful chart Kerouac created to envision his first novel, The Town and the City. It's clear that even though he was following a traditional approach, he was already thinking in new ways about the novel.

The old ways didn't work

It's easy to think of Jack Kerouac as the breezy, jazz-inspired writer of "On the Road." Yet spending any time with him makes it clear he was devoted to the art, as well as to the living, required for writing.

Few people beyond die-hard fans like me are aware of his first novel, "The Town and the City," which was published long before his great road novel.

He said he approached it in the traditional novel-writing way, with outlined plots, character development and other traditional elements. It was indeed published by a major NY printer, but it never took off.

Kerouac later said that he felt constricted by this form and had the idea to write about his own life, just changing the names, but that the events around him could be a worthy subject for a novel. He then left the "classical" tradition for the "realism" tradition in some ways ... the great house that includes Zola, Van Gogh and other renegades who said the lives and struggles of so-called common folk had value for the rest of us.

That mentality still shocks. We consider ourselves so modern and classless, but when was the last time we read a book about marginal, even disreputable and unlikeable outlaws, drug-addicts, sex workers or criminals? These were the kinds of people Kerouac brought into the placid world of the 1950s, and why the so-called "beat" and later hippies were considered such a threat.

ABOVE: Jack Kerouac. “The Ten-Year Spiritual (or Psychological?) Circle of ‘An American Passed Here.’” Manuscript notes for the novel that would become The Town and the City, circa 1945. New York Public Library, Berg Collection, Jack Kerouac Archive. Reproduced courtesy of John G. Sampas, legal representative of the estates of Jack and Stella Kerouac.

2008-03-03 12:34:57 GMT
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