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Visions of Gerard: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 1991
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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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Set in Lowell, Massachusetts, the novel describes the last year of Gerard's life. It portrays young Gerard together with the boys' father and mother and to a lesser extent their sister. Kerouac remembers and writes about the French-Canadian Catholic community of Lowell in which he grew up.
Gerard was a crucial figure for Kerouac throughout his life. The "visions" offered of Gerard in this book should be seen as reflections of Kerouac's own life in the 1950s more than as the memories of a four year old boy. Kerouac remembers young Gerard as a saintly character who loved all things, particularly animals, and who had a deeply religious sense in a pantheistic way. Kerouac introduces Gerard and shows his feelings for his brother, and develops his own view of life, in the novel's opening pages. He writes;
"It was only many years later when I met and understood Savas Savakis [a childhood friend] that I recalled the definite and immortal idealism which had been imparted me by my holy brother. -- And even later with the discovery (or dullmouthed amazed hang-middle mindburnt waking re- discovery) of Buddhism. Awakened-hood -- Amazed recollection that from the very beginning I, whoever 'I' or whatever 'I' was, was destined, destined indeed to meet, learn understand Gerard and Savas and the Blessed Lord Buddha, (and my sweet Christ too through all his Paulinian tangles and bloody crosses of heathen violence) -- To awaken to pure faith in the bright one truth: All is Well, practice Kindness, Heaven is Nigh."
This passage shows many of "Visions of Gerard's strengths and weakness -- the overblown, wordy language which also can be moving -- the focus on mystical religiosity, the author's self-indulgence, and, not least, Kerouac's love for his brother and his sorrow over his early death. Kerouac describes the love of the two young brothers in scenes with the family cat, Gerard's mystical visions of heaven in parochial school, one of his confessions, and the progressively dehabilitating nature of his painful,fatal illness. Kerouac also describes his then-young father who worked ambitiously as a printer but was doomed by his addictions to gambling and alcohol. The climax of the book is the death of Gerard and a depiction of the young boy's funeral.
The book has its flaws, but it works. The sense of Gerard -- or of the grown Kerouac's recollections of his brother -- comes through. The boy's grief and his family's grief over the death of the child is unmistakably heartfelt. Many of the book's early critics found that the bloated language of the book and Kerouac's self-preoccupation took away from Gerard and his death -- -- on the whole I didn't find it so. The religious vision to which Kerouac aspired is presented here projected upon Kerouac's feelings for his "sainted" dead brother.
Kerouac later wrote that he intended "Visions of Gerard" as chronologically the first of a series of novels of his life presenting the "Duluoz Legend". He envisioned that the "whole thing forms one enormous comedy, seen through the eyes of poor Ti Jean (me), otherwise known as Jack Duluoz, the world of raging action and folly and also of gentle sweetness seen through the keyhole of his eye." "Visions of Gerard" may have outlasted its early poor reviews as it is about to be made available in a new Library of America compilation of Kerouac novels. Jack Kerouac: Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur: (Library of America #262) Admirers of Kerouac will want to read this story of Kerouac and his brother.