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The Subterraneans [Paperback]

Jack Kerouac
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 27 1994 Kerouac, Jack
Written over the course of three days and three nights, "The Subterraneans" was generated out of the same kind of ecstatic flash of inspiration that produced another one of Kerouac's early classics, "On the Road." Centering around the tempestuous brekup of Leo Percepied and Mardou Fox -- two denizens of the 1950s San Francisco underground -- "The Subterraneans is a tale of dark alleys and smoky rooms, of artists, visionaries, and adventurers existing outside mainstream America's field of vision.

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"The first clear development of the American Romantic prose since Hemingway, Kerouac's writing is full of mad sex, comedy, widescreen travel writing, and long lyrical evocations of American childhood and adolescent memories."--"The Times" (London) "Kerouac's work represents the most extensive experiment in language and literary form undertaken by an American writer of his generation."--Ann Douglas "Each book by Kerouac is unique, a telepathic discord. Such rich, natural writing is nonpareil in the later twentieth century."--Allen Ginsberg "An outsider in America, Jack Kerouac was a true original."--Ann Charters

About the Author

Jack Kerouac wrote a number of highly influential and popular novels - most famously the international best-seller ON THE ROAD - and is remembered as one of the key figures of the legendary Beat generation. As much as anything, he came to represent a philosophy, a way of life. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
ONCE I WAS YOUNG and had so much more orientation and could talk with nervous intelligence about everything and with clarity and without as much literary preambling as this; in other words this is the story of an unself-confident man, at the same time of an egomaniac, naturally, facetious won't do-just to start at the beginning and let the truth seep out, that's what I'll do-. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A story well told despite the rambling Dec 21 2003
By Chris
I don't know what you'd call the prose style of this book. It seems to be a "stream of consciousness" style where Kerouac tells a story and includes all of his related thoughts as he is telling the story, whether those related thoughts are intelligible to the reader or not.
I'm not a fan of styles of novel writing other than the standard format of normal sentences and paragraphs(such as that found in ON THE ROAD). Jack rambles on and on at times for two pages in this book without the benefit of a paragraph or a period breaking his flow.
But regardless of its difficult style which makes somewhat less effective than it could be, the story is presented with skill and coherence. Jack is able to evoke coherent human feeling through his writing, in the midst of the rambling .
This story written in and set in early 1950's San Francisco. It is based apparently on a true story, the love of Kerouac, who in the story is called Leo Percepied with a half-Cherokee half-black mentally unstable bohemian lady whom is called Mardou Fox. Mardou is portrayed as a tragic figure, a very beautiful lady, a sex object of the junkies and raffish intellectuals that Kerouac knows, abused and neglected in her childhood, full of the spirit and sadness of the Native American and the African American. I suppose the best writing is towards the end of the book. Here we actually see paragraphs to break the rambling and periods! Here the story becomes more coherent and the reader sees Leo reaching the climax of his struggle as his jealousy and unreliability and alcoholism takes its toll on his relationship with Mardou. He never 100 percent certain about whether he wants to be with Mardou. Mardou herself is a sometimes real, sometimes hard to grasp, a distant figure. The best part of the book is Leo (Kerouac).
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3.0 out of 5 stars a glorious headache Aug. 24 2003
By Josh R.
Format:Paperback name is Josh and I'm a Beat literature addict ("HELLO JOSH"). Prior to last week, the only Kerouac novels I owned were On the Road and The Dharma Bums. I bought The Subterraneans because, after leafing through it in a local bookstore, it looked like, at the very least, an interesting and wild piece of work.
That it was, both former and latter. Kerouac wrote this book in three days and three nights on a sudden burst of inspiration, much like On the Road. The difference here is complete stream-of-consciousness...and the book reads that way. Boasting almost no indentation or seperation of speakers, what you find is masses and masses of words slapped down on the pages in an inspired fury. This asset is the book's greatest strength and weakest attribute. Commendable, yes; however, you cannot read more than thirty or so pages at a time, or you will faint with a headache.
Pick this book up; its an interesting chapter in the life of Kerouac, and an unspoken note to perfectionist writers to loosen up.
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This short novel--the third novel of Kerouac's to be published--is written with nonstop ferocity. The narrator, Leo Percepied, Kerouac's alter-ego here, tells with rapid-fire think-speak the story of his love affair with Mardou Fox, one of the San Francisco "subterreaneans" (nee " the Beats"). (As one reviewer already pointed out, the novel was supposed to be set in New York City but was changed for legal reasons.) Leo seems interested in Mardou partly "because she was Negro" (p. 2). Part of Kerouac's romanticization of the African American experience in his writings (see, for instance, the "joy, kicks, darkness" passage in "On the Road" and his exaltation of Charlie Parker as a Buddha-like figure in "Mexico City Blues") is partially explained here when he writes of Mardou, "no girl had ever moved me with a story of spiritual suffering and so beautifully her soul showing out radiant as an angel wandering in hell and the hell the selfsame streets I'd roamed in watching, watching for someone just like her and never dreaming the darkness and the mystery and eventuality of our meeting in eternity" (p. 36). Kerouac was genuinely attracted to suffering--at least at this point in his life--as a heroic ideal, which was often embodied, for him, in the American-minority experience. Kerouac reportedly wrote the novel in three days while on some uppers and it shows. "The Subterraneans" jumps and juts in-between thoughts and ideas without any cues, and is chock-full of incomplete and run-on sentences. At first, the furious pace is quite engaging and fun, but, predictably, it becomes tiresome (this is most evident when Leo retells Mardou's story about her nervous breakdown). Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars Beat Surrender Aug. 8 2002
This isn't Jack's best. In "On the Road" Dean Moriarty plays Huck to Sal's Tom Sawyer: a good kid at heart but prone to trouble with his wild friend. Here Leo Percepied's the bad boy, getting drunk, embarassing friends and hurting lovers with no one to blame but himself. The joy and big-hearted optimism of "On the Road" give way to boozy self-recrimination as the author berates himself for messing things up with Mardou.
The subterraneans of the title are a cool, intellectual, heroin-addled set that Leo has little time for; they're mostly a backdrop for his relationship with Mardou. Kerouac examines their love, from Leo's point of view anyway, in microscopic detail, but some of his confessions were startling to me--that he'd never get serious with a black woman, for instance, because it would ruin his fantasy of living down South like Faulkner. I'm probably just getting old, but where Sal Paradise seemed urgent and searching, Leo struck me as selfish and immature, aware that he needs to grow up but not really wanting to. Where Sal wanted kicks, Leo wants love. That's a trickier (more adult?) proposition and I'm not sure Kerouac rose to the challenge, in this novel or in life.
Don't get me wrong--I'm a big Kerouac fan. "On the Road" and "Mexico City Blues" just hit the ball harder for me. If you get a chance, see the movie version of "The Subterraneans" with George Pepard as Leo, Mardou as white (?!) and Roddy McDowell as a bongo-beating beatnik. Hollywood at its finest!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing masterpiece of american lit
This and Big Sur prove to me that Kerouac was worth all the hype. I as most started with On the Road. but soon graduated on to real literature. Read more
Published on March 13 2004 by philip hoffman
5.0 out of 5 stars music as words EASY TO BE swept up in ONSLAUGHT
Published on Nov. 7 2003 by david
4.0 out of 5 stars The Other Side of Kerouac
"The Subterraneans," in my opinion, is a must-read for serious Kerouac fans. It doesn't exhibit the manic, adventurous, and outgoing writer that we all know from "On... Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2003 by Patrick King
5.0 out of 5 stars The Romance Novel of the Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac's 1953 book "Subterraneans" explores love, Hedonism, addiction and mystique (the aura of the Beat generation) all in a little more than 100 pages. Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2003 by K. Bentley
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac does it again.
When you think of the 1950's, you envision carhops, Beaver Cleaver and Buddy Holly. What you don't think of is an underground world of sex and drugs dominated by poets and addicts. Read more
Published on May 6 2003 by Caris O'Malley
3.0 out of 5 stars Experimental? Yes. Effective? No
This is clearly a piece of Sophomoric garbage that is muddied up in order to appear deeper than it really is. Read more
Published on March 11 2003 by Timothy L. Atkinson
3.0 out of 5 stars be prepared
i've heard this book compared to the Dharma Bums by a number of people, but i don't like that comparisson. The entire mood and circumstances of this novel are quite different. Read more
Published on April 20 2002 by Pen Name?
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reviewers Out-Kerouac Kerouac
Kerouac generates a lot of emotion because of the beatnik settings he uses, feelings which come from the same causes that created the beatniks, the desire to escape the pressures... Read more
Published on March 7 2002 by Simple tool
5.0 out of 5 stars intoxicating magical story
of a doomed loved, written in beautiful poetic style that captures the sad and tragic essence of the story and atmosphere. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002 by dame doom
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