I had hoped to be able to spend some uninterrupted weeks of reading and thinking on the Kerouac Project, but like most things in my life right now, the project has been pushed to the back burner more often than not. Nevertheless, I've managed to finish the first two books, Atop an Underwood and Orpheus Emerged. Neither of these works would convince a newcomer to Kerouac that his writings are worthy of further pursuit. In fact, if I were to recommend anything in the early stages of formulating a Kerouac theory, it would be to leave these two aside until finishing the more savory Kerouac novels.
Atop an Underwood is a collection of early Kerouac essays and story fragments, some dating back to his early teens. Many of the selections are downright unreadable, serving only to show the genesis of some of the tropes of Kerouac's later works. One does get a glimpse of the artist as a very young man writing mock newspaper accounts of horse racing, developing his own type of fantasy baseball league, and dreaming of one day traveling west.
I first read Orpheus Emerged several years ago when it was released in e-book only format. I read it again last year when it came out in hardcopy and now for the third time as part of this project. Kerouac wrote this short novel at the age of twenty-three, not long after meeting Ginsberg and Burroughs and some of the other characters that would make up the Beat Generation. In fact, the characters of this novel are loosely veiled versions of the friends Kerouac had in his Columbia days and a reader of Kerouac's many biographies will catch glimpses of some of the incidents that shaped the man later in life.
For a nice sample of Orpheus Emerged in audio format, go here for an mp3 of Eric Jenson reading from the book.
Up next, Town and the City.