Title: The Town and the City
Author: Jack Kerouac
Page Count/Review Word Count: 500
This is Kerouac as you’ve never seen him before. The Town and the City is his debut novel, and he wrote it long before he developed his trademark stream-of-consciousness style – here we see a different man entirely, a more thoughtful and introverted spirit who nevertheless shows plenty of signs of the potential that he eventually lived up to.
In The Town and the City, Kerouac attempted to create his ‘Great American novel‘. Arguably, he was successful, but I’m not bothered about titles like that – to me, it’s just a fantastic piece of work in its own right, a little long perhaps but well worth persevering through.
To begin with, I’ll admit that it is plagued a little bit by that nemesis of every sweeping novel before it – there are so many characters that it’s difficult to tell them apart, to begin with. It doesn’t help that they’re all from the same family either, but you do get to know them over time; I’d argue that if anything, that ends up as a good thing overall, because it means that you can re-read it and gain a better appreciation and understanding the second time round.
It’s also one of those books in which nothing seems to happen over a long period of time, but that’s the mastery that the writer is showing here – time doesn’t seem to drag, and the characters do develop even while nothing much is changing around them. Anyone can create character growth out of deaths and diseases, but it takes one hell of a writer to create it from conversations and exposition.
In fact, I’d argue that this is one of Kerouac’s better works – perhaps not his best (after all, I’m not crazy), but it’s still pretty damn good read, and an impressive debut novel from a man who would later become a legend. The characters are pretty likeable too, once you get used to them, even if they don’t seem quite as interesting as thinly-veiled caricatures of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
I still think you’re better off starting with On the Road, or perhaps with Vanity of Dulouz, which I personally think is probably his finest piece of work. The Town and the City can wait until you’re ready to delve a little deeper, but don’t forget it altogether – it’s a hidden gem, but it’s a hidden gem that’s better read with a little bit of context.
And so I leave you with a quote: “He had never felt anything like that before – yet somehow he knew that from now on he would always feel like that, always, and something caught at his throat as he realized what a strange sad adventure life might get to be, strange and sad and still much more beautiful and amazing than he could ever have imagined because it was so really, strangely sad.”