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Milo MInderbinder

The Town and the City - Jack Kerouac

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I didn't enjoy Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'. There, I've said it. I don't know if it was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time or just the writing style. It just wasn't for me. I chanced on TTATC on Amazon whilst eagerly scanning the Kindle section as the owner of a new Kindle bought for me at Christmas.

 

TTATC was Kerouac's debut and was published in 1950. Its a semi-autobiographical story of the Martin family who live in the small mill town of Galloway, Massachusetts. The Mother and father George and Marguerite and their eight children (Kerouac based the character of Peter Martin on himself). JK opens the book with a superb description of the layout Galloway and of its inhabitants. The era for the book is the thirties through to the mid nineteen forties. We meet the family as the majority of the children are in their formative teenage years and are finding their feet in the world of adulthood. The finding of feet is accelerated for them by the United States entering WW2 after Pearl Harbour.

 

One review I read about TTATC describes it as "maybe Kerouac has written the great American novel". He certainly from what I read has captured perfectly the parochial feel of small town life whilst at the same time celebrating America and American traditions. Two of my favourite passages describe firstly a High School Thanksgiving football game, and secondly a visit to Rockingham racetrack by George Martin and his son Michael. As a fan of horseracing I have never read a better description of a race day anywhere else. Kerouac has perfectly summed up the pre-race mood and anticipation of the diverse crowd of racegoers better than any sports writer I have read.

 

As the war goes on and finally ends we change the backdrop to that of New York City. As a fan of many novels set in Gotham I have read of what a wild place New York was in the jazz age through to the nineteen fifties but Kerouac dizzies the reader with a tangible feel for how diverse, edgy, cosmopolitan, and desperate places like Times Square in the forties must have been. A great portrait of Manhattan.

 

The Town and the City is a story about family, America, life, and the weird and wonderful human condition. This is not written in Kerouac's beat style but in that of a more regular narrative, but it is written with an eye firmly on the wonder of being alive and everything that life entails. This is so accomplished and worldy its hard to believe this was his debut novel.

Edited by Milo MInderbinder

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