In an interview on The Lehrer Report I heard Kerouac scholar Audrey Sprenger praise Jack Kerouac for being a profoundly disciplined writer who was brave enough to write his life. In her writings about Jack, I've gleaned another important twofold insight: that Jack's writings makes us both want to live our lives as adventures, and they encourage us to see our lives as something worth writing about.
I'm glad I discovered Audrey because she put words to things I've felt about Jack for a long time and simply couldn't express. And reading about her work inspired me to finish Tristessa last night.
Not that it was a hard book to finish, being only 96 pages - making it a novella, or perhaps a novelette, depending on which egghead one wishes to believe - and epitomizing Jack's spontaneous and fluid prose that sends the reader on a flume ride, sometimes fast sometimes slow but always flowing, even to the point of not caring if comprehension suffers for fear that getting out of the boat would interrupt the total experience of digging the ride.
In Tristessa, Jack writes his life in Mexico: prostitutes, junkies, disease, poverty, chickens in the house, crime, flea-ridden cats, pimps, squalor, drug dealers, hucksters - all juxtaposed against love, beauty, friendship, lust, spirituality, big questions, even rants against god (like the Cool Hand, like Lieutenant Day-un).
By the end you understand how you could live in abject poverty and fall in love with a drug-addicted, anorexic prostitute. Maybe more than that. Maybe by the end you fall in love with Tristessa.
And the world doesn't seem so ugly anymore.