Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review: Gerard: The Influence of Jack Kerouac's Brother On His Life and Writing

One of my Kerouac class students is writing his research paper on the influence of Jack Kerouac's brother, Gerard, on Jack's life and writing. Last week students turned in an outline of their paper, and I asked them to provide references they were going to be using. I ask for five references in total, with three being from scholarly journals (if possible -- that is not always easy depending on the thesis, but they can at least use three scholarly sources). They already submitted a research question earlier in the semester. Next a rough draft is due, and then, finally, the final paper. I required these waystations toward a paper -- research question, outline, rough draft -- because I know that some students need such structure to make sure they don't begin their paper the night before it's due (and thus turn in something that is inevitably not very thoughtful, let alone that they probably don't learn much in the process).

Being a pragmatist, I use -- and encourage my students to use -- Google as one way of identifying sources. Granted, it is fraught with scholarly danger, but I tell them that if they find something that isn't clearly scholarly to ask me if it's at least credible. To wit, I don't think Beatdom or LitKicks or similar sites are peer-reviewed by definition in academe, but they often have credible articles that are on point and are, at the very least, good starting points. As is Wikipedia, but I daresn't say that because I will get drummed out of the academy. Naturally, I show them how to access and encourage them to use our own library's scholarly databases.

I queried Google to see what I might find (and suggest to this student). I used the phrase "Gerard influence Kerouac," and the second hit was Donald Motier's book, Gerard: The Influence of Jack Kerouac's Brother On His Life and Writing," available via Amazon, I had not heard of it before and it had no customer reviews (although it's fixing to), but I bought it anyway, thinking it serendipitous that my friend Richard and I recently did a marathon reading of Visions of Gerard. I thought that if the book came soon enough, I could lend it to the aforementioned student, given that it might take a while to get it by interlibrary loan (if he even wants to reference it). It didn't hurt that Gerald Nicosia, author of Memory Babe, wrote this blurb for the book (as it turns out, it's on the back cover):

There is no understanding Jack Kerouac without understanding the power his brother Gerard had over his heart and his imagination. Donald Motier provides the book every Kerouac student must read. This is a many-faceted flashing mirrored ball with gleams and insights into Gerard hitting you from every direction and, pervaded by the reverence and sincere love Jack and Motier himself feels for this child saint who inaugurated the Beat Generation.
I just read the book this morning, in one sitting of about half an hour or so -- it's that brief -- and I must admit that Gerry is not far off in his praise for the book. The version pictured is the one I purchased, and it has a 2010 copyright by Publish America (a self-publisher for you self-righteous academics who will now not give the book any consideration); however, a read of the introduction reveals that it first appeared in 1991 courtesy of Beaulieu Street Press (the latter has little on-line presence and I cannot ascertain whether it is a self-publisher).

This little book, 65 numbered pages, is full of Gerard's spirit just as Gerry points out. It includes a brief introduction that sketches out how the author became interested in the topic, followed by a short biographical sketch of Gerard that features quotes from Lowellians who knew Gerard: Roger Ouellette and his sister, Pauline. It also features the text of Gerard's obit from the Lowell Sun. This is followed by a creative and informative "interview" with Gerard, a piece previously published in John Montgomery's Kerouac at the Wild Boar & Other Skirmishes (1986).

This is followed by a one-page entry titled, "Gerard's Influence on Jack's Life," concluding with a powerful quote from Kerouac's Book of Sketches.

The next section is titled, "Gerard's Influence on Jack's Writing." In it we learn all of the places Kerouac mentions Gerard in his writing, and get to read a number of passages with analysis. We also find a copy of Gerard's birth certificate (with Kerouac spelled Keroack), death certificate, and various other documents as well as relevant pictures from Lowell. The author experiences several visions of Gerard during the visit, hits many Lowell Kerouac hot spots on a boozy tour with Father Spike Morissette, and even has to relieve himself in the wash basin of a chapel (at Spike's suggestion).

Next is another previously published piece which appeared in the Spring 1991 issue of The Kerouac Connection. It's titled, "Revisiting Nashua-Lowell on the 60th Anniversary of Gerard's Death." For me, this spontaneous-style journal-type entry alone justified the price of the book. It's exactly the kind of thing I love to do -- visit Kerouacian sites, meet interesting characters, and write about it.

If you are looking for an exhaustively researched and comprehensive treatise on the influence of Gerard on Kerouac's life and writing, this is not it. On the other hand, if you are looking for something on the subject that is heartfelt and contributes a few unique contributions to the topic at hand, I doubt you'd be unhappy about buying Motier's book.

Here's the Amazon link to the book:

P.S. Below is a cover of the first edition, which Dave Moore pointed me to.


P.S.S. Below is a letter from Motier published in The Kerouac Connection in 1992 which, again, Dave Moore alerted me to on the Kerouac Facebook page.
From The Kerouac Connection (1992)

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