"The Sea Is My Brother" by Jack Kerouac (Da Capo Press, $23)
If Jack Kerouac hadn't died in 1969, he'd be 90 this year. Now the very first novel by the author of the forever-in-print "On the Road" and "The Dharma Bums," called "The Sea Is My Brother," has just been published 70 years after Kerouac wrote it.
He was 21 when he boarded a merchant navy ship during the war and set off for the Atlantic with a 158-page notebook that he filled by the time he got back.
Kerouac fans have long lusted after this supposedly lost novel, yet it was never really lost but locked away, eventually to be unlocked and published like other manuscripts in his estate such as "Some of the Dharma" and "Wake Up."
The appearance of this 1942 item has had the predictable effect on this reader, just as every other Kerouac book has had. To live as if transported, "sent" is the word of the jazzman, its words taking one on a ride back to when life was inherently heaven, bathed in celestial light. Kerouac does this due to a sort of synesthesia, an unconscious ability to see sound and hear color. There is none of the jazzy, hepcat language of his mature novels here, more the mannered, measured words of the immature. Yet this first novel already has the uncanny effect that the reader dwells inside what the writer is singing.
"On the top deck, groups of quiet seamen stood beside their lifeboats ... No one spoke. The wind howled in the smoking funnel, flapped along the deck waving the clothing of the seamen, and rushed out over the stern along the bright green wake of the ship. The ocean sighed a soothing, sleepy hush, a sound that pervaded everywhere in its enormity as the ship slithered on through, rocking gently forward."
That having been said, it should be noted that the dust jackets of both the American and British editions of "The Sea Is My Brother" are the worst book covers your critic has ever seen.
by Mark Howell
"One and Only, The Untold Story of On the Road" by Gerald Nicosia (Viva Editions, $22.95)
The book that Kerouac fans have actually been waiting for all their lives is this latest book by Gerald Nicosia, author of "Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac." "One and Only" is the true story of a girl called LuAnne Henderson who, in Denver in 1946, entered the story spun by Jack Kerouac in "On the Road," that literary milestone chronicling his and Neal Cassady's epic land voyages across the North American continent.
In "On the Road" LuAnne Henderson is called Marylou and, for half a century since the book became a global bestseller, she has been the mystery person for every reader and scholar ever drenched in Beat arcana.
The soon-to-be-released Walter Salle movie of "On the Road" gives the Marylou role to "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart, a good choice who was coached in the part by LuAnne's own daughter, Anne Marie Santos, co-author with Gerald Nicosia of this first-ever book about her legendary mother.
Nicosia is not simply the preeminent historian of the Beat Generation but also a former boyfriend of Kerouac's late daughter Jan and a thorn in the side of Jack's widow's family, the people who locked up all those manuscripts for all those years in order to get the money -- we're talking millions -- that might have gone to Jan and even LuAnne if they'd survived.
LuAnne's life began in difficulty and blossomed into a season of intoxicating beauty, then moved on to ever greater difficulties and opportunities. But it was undeniably LuAnne Henderson who first put Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady together for all time (in fact they didn't even get along until she truly connected them) and she is a "familiar," as they say, to a million readers -- and to moviegoers, too, who gaped at that scene in "Heartbeat" where Marylou beds both Jack and Neal at once (she married and divorced Neal, by the way).
Only in 2012 do we get to read, at long last, the real words of LuAnne -- she died just a few years ago -- who knew Kerouac and Cassady better than anyone of her generation and is entitled to her truth. And an astute truth it is. LuAnne understood that Jack and Neal, despite their extraordinary "sharing of consciousnesses," were "totally unaware of each other's real feelings" ... and continued to be so even as their fame bloomed and exploded, both of them dying in their 40s.
To quote Joanna McClure, the poet wife of the poet Michael, quoting LuAnne: "She demanded a 'broad margin' to her life showing she had 'as much right to go through every door as a man had.' A number of us followed her."
Adds David Meltzer, one of the original Beats: "This book is a necessary revelation of the female experience in postwar United States, an incredible story of insights into our times."
by Mark Howell