Item #32 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this copy of Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans. It is a Grove Press/Evergreen Books paperback showing a 1958 copyright. There is no printing number, and penciled on the first page is "1st EDITION 1st Paperback issue." Unfortunately, this copy is in obviously poor condition, although the text is readable. The provenance of this copy is likely that I bought it used on Amazon, which you can do via the link below.
As the back cover says, in this book Kerouac
continues his chronicle of the "Beat Generation" with this beautifully written, sharp novel about the "subterraneans" of San Francisco, who are "hip without being slick, intelligent without being corny, intellectual as hell and know all about Pound without being pretentious or talking too much about it, they are very quiet, they are very Christlike."This is a story about the poets, writers, and artists of mid-century America called "Beats," and it's the story of the author's -- Kerouac as Leo Percepied -- torrid and (spoiler alert) doomed affair with a beautiful black women, Mardou Fox (real-life Alene Lee). The actual story takes place in NYC's Greenwich Village and surrounds, but as with all of Kerouac's roman à clef novels (this is more a novella), the character's names are changed and, in this particular book, so are the locations. For example, Dante's bar in San Francisco is actually Fugazzi's in NYC; North Beach means Greenwich Village; the Black Mask bar is the San Remo; Montgomery Street is MacDougal Street; and so on. Last time I read the book I started a key to characters and places which you can see below. It is incomplete at this time.
Kerouac wrote this book in October 1953 about events that took place during the summer of that year. It wasn't published until 1958, after On The Road established Kerouac's place in American letters in 1957. It's a quick read -- 111 pages in this version.
Hollywood tried to capitalize on the Beat Generation with a 1960 film adaptation of the novel starring George Peppard as Leo and Leslie Caron as Mardou (yes, Leslie was white -- Hollywood didn't want to bank on an inter-racial affair in those times). I haven't seen it (bucket list), but I understand that it was neither a popular nor critical success at the time.
You'll find plenty of Kerouac's inimitable spontaneous prose in The Subterraneans, along with a keen slice-of-life look at bohemian culture in NYC in 1953 and a heart-wrenching memoir of a fraught love affair. My great friend Richard loves this book, and I have to agree that it is love-worthy as well as essential Kerouac for anyone calling themselves a Kerouac or Beat fan.
Read it again or for the first time -- you won't be sorry.
Below is a picture of Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (13th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: San Francisco Blues by Jack Kerouac.
Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf