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Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings Paperback – November 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Jack Kerouac's buddy William Burroughs once told an interviewer that Jack had written about a million words by the time he turned 22, and poet and editor Paul Marion publishes 80,000 of them for the first time in Atop an Underwood: jazz reviews written in high school, several rushing headlong poems, short stories (Kerouac dashed off some 200 during his 1941 stint working in a Hartford gas station), essays, radio plays, self-exhortations, an excerpt from the novel The Sea Is My Brother. Marion takes what he calls a "documentary approach," grouping together pieces by period, subject, circumstance of composition. And what emerges from the whole is a terrifically fresh, vivid, and engaging portrait of the Beat artist as a young man.

Kerouac, even in his teens, was riffing on his big themes--the restless quest for meaning along "the marathon alleys of life"; the lonely majesty of "the real, true, America, America in the night"; the fleeting pleasures of love, sex, comradeship, food, and drink; the compulsion to set down his experiences in swift, fluid prose. There are no buried masterpieces or stunning revelations here, but every piece hums with the spontaneity and immediacy of Kerouac's voice. Reading these youthful jottings is like hanging out at one of those all-night bull sessions when Kerouac and his pals "talked about eternity and infinity and the government and Reds and women and things..."

"I will write a play about life as life is and I will wait till it hits me in the face before I write it," he proclaimed when he was 18. "Then I will rush to my typewriter and write it. So hold on to your seats. It will soon come and I feel terrifically exuberated right just now." Atop an Underwood is a record of the many forms that exuberation took during the years when life first started to hit Kerouac in the face. --David Laskin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"I am part of the American temper, the American temperament, the American tempo," writes a teenage Kerouac in a prophetic 1941 prose fragment, one of the 60 such pieces in this collection of Kerouac's juvenilia. These fugitive pieces, previously unpublished, provide a tantalizing glimpse of the future Beat generation originator, spanning Kerouac's adolescence and his first years in New York. The themes here would later find expression in On the Road and the Duluoz series: his French-American heritage, with its idiosyncratic English; his mystical identification with America; and, taking cues from Whitman, his vision of art as a means to unfold the authenticity of the self. The best pieces are the short sketches written in Hartford in 1941. Kerouac crafts, diary-style, a catalogue of daily activities (working in a cookie factory, living in a cheap apartment) while experimenting with the rhythms and forms he derived from his reading of Thomas Wolfe and William Saroyan. In the early '40s, Kerouac lived in several diverse social spheres. He worked in Hartford, attended Columbia University on a football scholarship, was kicked out of Columbia, enlisted in the Merchant Marines and simply bummed around. It is evident that radio had an overlooked influence on Kerouac's style. A piece like "Howdy," which begins, "Howdy. This is Jack Kerouac, speaking to you," obviously takes its formal cues from radio broadcasts. The last section of the book is less interesting, excerpting a section of a novel Kerouac wrote about the Merchant Marines. Although this book shouldn't be a starting place for new Kerouac readers, there is enough real Kerouac bebop here to interest even his more casual fans. (Nov.) FYI: The publication of this collection will coincide with the publication of the second volume of Kerouac's selected letters.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Fourth Printing edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140296395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140296396
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth M. Goodman on May 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm liking this book way more than I expected I would.

Most of the selections were written by Kerouac between the

ages of 16 and 23. Sure some of them reflect the early author's

innocence, but virtually all have fascinating insights.

Here's a good example: One of the best selections concerns

Jack's one-day employment in a sweat-shop cookie-making factory.

Check out this quote: "Shorter hours will provide the laborer with a new desire to live, not to be a productive animal, but to have time to be a man, to have time to enjoy the rights of man in the use of his divine intellect, a gift of God that is overlooked by our overloads of the present Industrial Era."

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Johnson on October 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
For starters, for the benefit of the younger set, I should explain the word Underwood used in the title of this compilation refers to a typewriter, an ancient tool used by writers and others in pre-historical times (before the digital age) in order to more quickly tell what they had to say to the world. How primitive, right? Except, typewriter or word processor, a writer is still obliged to have a plan (or plans) to tell his woes to the world. Now I have spent considerable time in this space reviewing many of the major works of the "beat writer Jack Kerouac, including masterpieces of his generation (and my later one) like "On The Road", "Dharma Bums", and "Desolation Angels". And rightly so. Now we come to a compilation of his early writings, thoughts, half -thoughts, sketches for thoughts and a few poems thrown in. In short, we are now in the stage of interest to the aficionado.

The editor of the compilation, Paul Marion, a younger fellow Lowell compatriot and writer of Kerouac's has what can only be described as a labor of love in organizing this work. Jack Kerouac may not have always written material that was unalloyed gold but he wrote a ton of stories and ideas for stories starting from his youth in junior high school in Lowell. Marion has separated out the best or otherwise most representative of the work from about 1936 to 1943 (just before the decisive meetings with the New York crowd, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lucien Carr, etc., with whom he would make literary history as the core of the "beat" generation writers). For those who want to trace Kerouac's evolution as a writer, what animated him at any given time, how he created that spontaneous writing form that he became famous for, or those who just want to be entertained by stories form the old days of the 1930s and 1940s this is good stuff to run through. For the rest us you NEED to read those three novels listed in the first paragraph, and you had better get to it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By steve kevlin on January 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
a good book into the mind set of a young JK. It takes you into the young mind of JK and lets you see how this excellent writer started. Alot of short stories of how jack got into writing and we all know the results of those young days. A must of a JK fan and a good book to have in your own JK library
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