Kerouac’s style emerges in first novel

THE SEA IS MY BROTHER: By Jack Kerouac. Da Capo Press. 216 pages. $23.00

In 1957, Jack Kerouac set the international publishing world on its ear with the publication of that iconic manifesto of the Beat Generation, “On the Road.”

Fourteen years before that, when he was only 21, he wrote his first novel. Now, 69 years later, it is being published for the first time in North America.

The original hand-written version is in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. Dr. Dawn Ward, a professor of art history and eminent Kerouac scholar, has done the minimum possible editing to turn the historic piece into publishable form. She also wrote a brief, but helpful, introduction to the work.

Most of the very recognizable features of Kerouac’s writings are here in his first effort: spontaneous travel as the path to freedom, a need to escape from conventional society, intense political discussions in the wee hours of the morning (well-facilitated by ample quantities of alcohol) and an easy accommodation of loneliness. It was written shortly after he finished his tour with the Merchant Marine.

As might be expected in an introspective first novel, the characters contain significant elements of the author’s own personality.

As a matter of fact, in his notes accompanying the first chapter, he describes his own dual personality thusly: “Naturally enough, my worldly side will wink at wenches, blow foam off a tankard and fight at the drop of a chip. My schizoid self, on another occasion, will sneer, slink away, and brood in some dark place.”

It is unlikely that a more succinct and accurate description of his personality has ever been written. In this novel the characters, Martin and Everhart, represent the two sides of the young author.

It is a short novel and the story line is not particularly important. Rather, the trials and tribulations of the characters serve mostly as a setting for utopian, anti-capitalist rants of several stripes.

The fascination, and perhaps the value of this book, is that it presents itself as a clear precursor to the books that followed. Given Kerouac’s subsequent impact, it is an important artifact in the popular literature of the time.

Reviewer Frank L. Cloutier, a retired engineer living in Hanahan