The Sea is My Brother

January 01, 1970

(Da Capo)

 

www.dacapopress.com

 

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

 

It’s a bright day in my
somewhat shadowed life when a new Jack Kerouac novel is “discovered” and
released by handlers of his estate. 
Since his death in 1969 at the age of 47, the family of his widow,
Stella Sampas, has controlled Kerouac’s interests and intellectual
property.  Since the release of Atop an Underwood, a collection of early
Kerouac stories, in 1999 there has been a steady flow of new material for fans
of the Beat Generation king. 

 

The latest, The Sea is my Brother, is perhaps the
best of the posthumous releases if not for quality but for how it shows the
reader the direction Jack was heading in his writing.  Sea could
be considered the skeleton that would become gems such as On The Road, Maggie Cassidy or The Subterraneans; the spontaneous
bop prosody style that Kerouac created (sentence structures that have a rhythm
much like his beloved Jazz) are in the early stages here.  Unlike “The Town and The City,” where Kerouac
obviously took an approach to writing much like his hero Thomas Wolfe, The Sea is My Brother is wholly
Kerouac.  He does not allow the
sometimes-stiff narrative to become constrictive for too long; at the brink of
convention, he breaks away from the norm and breathes life to a style that is
energetic and natural. 

 

The plot of Sea (if you could call it that) is
nearly non-existent; the book revolves around two main characters, Columbia
University professor Bill Everhart and Wesley Martin, two men that hook up
after many bar discussions and head out aboard a ship carrying war supplies to
Greenland.  Kerouac himself took this
exact trip as a merchant marine aboard the SS Dorchester.  Like any great writer, Kerouac borrowed from
his real-life experiences to formulate a world of his own where he is God and
his characters, whether they are Martin, Dean Moriarty, Old Bull Lee, Mardou
Fox or Carlo Marx, are his children to control and mold.

 

Sea is quite impressive considering Kerouac was barely out of
this teens when the writing began.  He
was already well on his way at that, tender age of creating the two mythical
American types that lay down the foundations for most, if not all, of his
future work.  Bill Everhart is the
ponderer, the deep thinker, the moral compass of the book.  Young Wesley Martin is the Dean Moriarty (the
main character of On The Road based
on Neal Cassady) of this outing.  He is
the energetic, wandering bum that only wants to have a drink, see the world and
maybe find a woman along the way.

 

Kerouac himself
identified The Sea is My Brother as
handwriting more than a novel.  The fact
that he was not happy with the finished product and chose not to publish it
alongside his autobiographical works like Lonesome
Traveler, Big Sur, On the Road, Visions of
Cody,
or the great Desolation Angels is a shame.  Yes, The Sea is My Brother is not a great piece of literature but it is
quite good.  If released during Kerouac’s
short 47 years, it would have stood with the others as an example to other
writers to find their own voices and that persistence does indeed pay off in
spades.

 

 

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