From Publishers Weekly
In introducing the fabled first draft of Kerouac's autobiographical novel-written on a single giant roll of paper, without breaks in the text, in an amphetamine-fueled marathon-editor Howard Cunnell refers to Allen Ginsberg's claim that "the published novel is not at all like the wild book Kerouac typed in '51." Characters are identified by their real names (rather than the 1957 version's apt pseudonyms) and their love affairs are more explicit, giving the book a juicy memoir-like feel, especially where Cassady and Ginsberg are concerned. The plot, however, is identical. Neal Cassady joins Kerouac and Ginsberg's bohemian circle in New York in the late 1940's, and inspires and cons them into traveling around the country, "searching for a lost inheritance, for fathers, for family, for home, even for America." The death of Kerouac's father plays a larger role in the story than in the 1957 version; and Justin W. Brierly, a teacher who served as mentor to Cassady and has a cameo in the published book, makes a series of recurring appearances in the scroll. The lack of paragraphs or chapters emphasizes the breathless intensity of Kerouac's prose. The anniversary publicity will introduce this classic to a new generation of readers, and while the scroll probably won't displace the novel's more familiar, polished incarnation, it will be of keen interest to beat aficionados and scholars.
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The mythology surrounding On the Road begins with a tantalizing creation story: in a 20-day marathon in April 1951, Kerouac speed-typed the single-spaced manuscript on long sheets of tracing paper he taped together to form a 120-foot scroll. Truly a remarkable feat, although Kerouac, who was not exactly the wild man his image as king of the Beats suggests, had already spent years working on what ultimately became On the Road. The legendary scroll, purchased by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, for $2.43 million, is currently being exhibited across the country. To celebrate the novel's fiftieth anniversary, the scroll has finally been fully transcribed and thoroughly explicated in four superb introductory essays. Given that the manuscript diverges from the book in the very first sentence, and that Kerouac used the real names of the friends who inspired his characters and wrote unused sexually explicit passages, this is an intriguing read to say the least. Seaman, Donna
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