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The Subterraneans Paperback – January 27, 1994

4.2 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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 was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. The best-known of his many works, On the Road, published in 1957, was an international bestseller. He died in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of forty-seven.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 111 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Revised edition (January 27, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802131867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802131867
  • ASIN: 0802131867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,765 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.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Subterraneans is an autobigraphical novel based on a summer love affair between Kerouac and a young black woman in New York City in 1953. The setting of the story was moved to San Francisco at the behest of the publisher.
The book tells the story of the love, and its end, between Leo Percepied, the Kerouac character, and Mardou Fox. Mardou is half Cherokee and half black. She has grown up in poverty in Oakland and has suffered serious emotional breakdowns. She has gone from lover to lover among the Bohemia of San Fransisco until she meets up with Leo.
The book shows some of Kerouac's understanding of his own character. He describes himself (page 1) as both an "unself-confident man" and as an "egomaniac". A few pages later (page 3) he confesses that "I am crudely malely sexual and cannot help myself and have lecherous and so on propensities as almost all my male readers no doubt are the same."
The Subterraneans are a group of hipsters, aspiring artists, drop-outs, con men who inhabit that bars and streets of San Fransiscon graphically described in this book. The book is full of mean streets, cold water flats, alleys, run-down stores, cheap bars, late evenings, pushcarts, and sad mornings.
Leo is initally sexually attracted to Mardou. When he learns and listens to her he truly falls in love. She is indeed a lovable character. The picture of the love is convincing. Unfortunately Leo/Kerouac remained throughout his life a mother's boy. Mardou tells him, properly and sensibly "Leo, I don't think it good for you to live with your mother always" (p47) Leo nonetheless can't part from his mother. He also has doubts about his ability to commit to a black woman, particularly given the prejudice of his mother and sister.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone who has read more than one novel by Jack Kerouac knows that his style varies. In Dharma Bums, Kerouac writes with atypical lucidity. In Big Sur (what I think is his greatest novel), he goes an entire first chapter with the use of one period. Of the five books by Kerouac I have read (the fifth book being On The Road), Subterraneans reads the most like Tristessa. The style of each book is more fractured than in the others, making it sometimes more difficult to follow. But in each book Kerouac finds a stride and rhythm to his work that soon carries the reader away. In Subterraneans, Kerouac tells the story of a relationship with Mardou Fox, a part Native-American, part African-American, mentally barely stable, twenty-one year old woman. Though Kerouac is almost 10 years older, they seem a great match. As usual, Kerouac's tale takes him through bar- and apartment-hopping parties, intellectual upheavals, drunken sprawling adventures, and bitter hangover realizations. The thread of unity throughout is the experience of his evolving relationship with Mardou, his deep self-realizations, his anger, love, and pain. When I finished the book I knew Kerouac had once again found something true amid his temporary madnesses and put it on paper for me to read. I closed the book and felt I had read something beautiful. Kerouac, you did it again.
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Format: Paperback
Every couple of years, I feel compelled to pick up this book and re-read it just to experience again the beautiful, descriptive images of Kerouac's world of love captured and love relinquished. It's really interesting how he lets us follow the relationship he fosters with this young, hipster girl from its passionate genesis to its inevitable demise. All the time, we try to steer him in certain directions, try to coax him to say and do things that will continue the romance because he makes us want it to work. Nevertheless, we are swept up in the rhythm of the prose, hanging on every emotion, applying it to similar relationships in our lives. I'd say its absolutely essential reading for people who have just severed ties with another person. The locomotive rush of the writing style painfully captures the images and burns them into our minds, often difficult and obscure in certain areas, but we understand them on a far more unconscious level. I'll probably pick it up again in the not-so-distant future. It's a classic.
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Format: Paperback
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. Certainly The Subterraneans is an interesting and necessary read for Kerouac fans, but certainly not a book i would recommend to readers just getting into Kerouac. The book is perhaps a bit too realistic, too depressing and self depreciating, without the hopeful philosophic spirit of his most popular works. It contains a lot of passages that just make you cringe, and some awkward archaic language when talking about Mardou. But there is still a bit of transcendental magic hidden in this book. Kerouac's strength really lies in his ability to open up those small moments of every day, the existential dread and desire is always there, we are always trying to make ourselves in every moment. Here we find it all taking its toll hard on him.
It is definitely a quick read, however, and of course Kerouac's less than great books are still better than so many other books out there. I'd recommend taking it out of a library or getting it used, though.
It is a snapshot of three days in the life of Leo Percepied (Kerouac) and perhaps its greatest value lies in its demystification of beat culture. Kerouac isn't finding buddha here, he's finding his inadequacies. "this is the story of an unself-confident man"(page 1).
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