Kerouac's Crooked Road: Development of a Fiction by Tim Hunt, and: Visitor: Jack Kerouac in Old Saybrook by John Clellon Holmes (review)
- Studies in American Fiction
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 1982
- pp. 115-116
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews Hunt, Tim. Kerouac's Crooked Road: Development of a Fiction. Hamden: Archon Books, 1981. 262 pp. Cloth: $19.50. Holmes, John Clellon. Visitor: Jack Kerouac in Old Saybrook. California : The Unspeakable Visions of the Individual, 1981. 16 pp. Paper: $8.00. Much of the material that has been published about Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beats has provided no new facts or insights that merit attention. At last, however, this new critical book reveals that hitherto unexploited approaches may provide new perspectives on works often dismissed as superficial and dated documents of our popular culture. Indeed , one leaves Tim Hunt's Kerouac's Crooked Road with the feeling that no one has ever really read such a familiar novel as On the Road before, and, in a sense, the feeling is warranted . Few earlier critics have gotten beneath the misleading surface of the work to produce more than mindless testimonials to its mystique or outraged cries against its pernicious trend setting. In the first of three long chapters, Hunt presents the most detailed and perceptive reading that the published version of On the Road has so far received. Hunt somewhat surprisingly treats this work everyone feels he knows whether he has read it or not as "best understood as a skillfully managed traditional novel" (p. 1), which, "in spite of its very substantial achievement," is "Kerouac's last apprentice work," written before he had "established either the voice or approach to structure that characterizes most of his work and certainly all of his best work" (p. xvii). Hunt further dismisses typical views of the novel as "naive autobiography, controversial best-seller of little merit" or " 'inspired testament ' " (p. xvi) and treats it as an American Bildungsroman, in which Sal Paradise is not a superficial autobiographical mirror image of the author but "an image which Kerouac uses to measure his own growth and to explore his interaction with its cultural heritage" (p. 5). It is this interaction that Hunt explores at length, arguing the view that Kerouac's "sense of earlier American texts" is more complex than even Leslie Fiedler has realized, since it involves grappling "not only with the real world of Cheyenne's Wild West Week but with the symbolic language of East, West, and Mississippi, and the imaginative past of Huck, Ahab, and frontier" (p. 52). Hunt's main purpose, however, is not even to promote the published version of On the Road as an artful allegory of the American tradition of individualism but to establish that this available text is but the fourth of five versions of the work, the last of which is Visions of Cody, "the book that Kerouac always maintained was his masterpiece" and that Hunt focuses upon as the artist's "first mature text and the paradigmatic text for his career" (p. xvii). To support his bold claim, Hunt devotes his second chapter to the gradual evolution of On the Road through its first three unpublished versions. Though handicapped by the Kerouac estate's refusal to allow him access to the manuscripts, Hunt manages to illustrate in detail how between November 9, 1948 and April, 1952 (when Kerouac typed what is now generally accepted as the final version of the work on the notorious continuous roll of paper), the novelist made great progress in mastering structure, point of view, and the relationship of the narrator to the narrative. Curiously, however, although Visions of Cody was not published in full until 1972, after Kerouac's death, he had begun work on it in 1952, five years before the antecedent 116Reviews version was published. Hunt's main effort in his climactic chapter is to demonstrate that this work that was too far in advance of its time is the most important one for which Kerouac developed his mature style of "sketching" and in which the narrator becomes "Kerouac as the product of the unnamed self and the self named by society," so that "the Kerouac of the text transcends that of the Kerouac outside it" and "in a sense, the text becomes the author" (p. 190). (Such a claim can be made, of course, for the much earlier Walt Whitman.) I do not at...