Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings share button
Jack Kerouac
Format Paperback
Dimensions 5.30 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.63 (d)
Pages 272
Publisher Penguin Group (USA)
Publication Date November 2000
ISBN 9780140296396
Book ISBN 10 0140296395
About Book

Before Jack Kerouac expressed the spirit of a generation in his 1957 classic, On the Road, he spent years figuring out how he wanted to live and, above all, learning how to write. Atop an Underwood brings together more than sixty previously unpublished works that Kerouac wrote before he was twenty-two, ranging from stories and poems to plays and parts of novels, including an excerpt from his 1943 merchant marine novel, The Sea Is My Brother. These writings reveal what Kerouac was thinking, doing, and dreaming during his formative years, and reflect his primary literary influences. Readers will also find in these works the source of Kerouac's spontaneous prose style.

Uncovering a fascinating missing link in Kerouac's development as a writer, Atop an Underwood is essential reading for Kerouac fans, scholars, and critics.


Chicago Tribune

Atop an Underwood is indispensable for the reader who wants to chart the development of one of our talented writers.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 These fugitive pieces, previously unpublished, provide a tantalizing glimpse of the future Beat generation originator, spanning Kerouac's adolescence and his first years in New York.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 Cahners Business Information.

Library Journal

Unpublished Kerouac: 60 pieces he wrote between the ages of 14 and 21. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

Kerouac's early writings—from ages 13 to 21—elucidate the formative years and provide insight into the later literature of the author's career. It must be noted that even the greatest writers aren't always recognizable by their high school and college scribblings. Poet Marion assembles a motley medley of Kerouac's initial attempts, including his adolescent horse worship in "Repulsion May Race Here in Exhibition Feature!!," excerpts from a football novella, and descriptive essays about his youth. Such pieces may be significant to the scholar tracking Kerouac's artistic development and to his rabid fans (Kerouac's following is often a zealous one), but they hold little value or interest to the general reader. The anthology bogs down with the author's high school jazz criticism, sketches of a play he thought of writing, descriptions of his dreams, and poems in which he attempts to channel Walt Whitman's ghost into his own pen. Though such writings provide a general background to Kerouac's life and demonstrate his early interest in such themes as American life, travel, identity, and spiritual quests, they rarely stand as compelling works on their own. Also, many of the pieces are mere fragments, snippets of subject matter that caught his attention and that, for some reason or another, he never completed. The poetry of the collection fares slightly better, yet it suffers often from a jejune combination of Whitman-like rhetoric with slushy sentimentalism. A curmudgeon might say that, with rare exceptions, teenagers aren't old or experienced enough to create much of real artistic value; Kerouac's early efforts would fit such a maxim.