“On the Road”

From Louis Menand’s article in The New Yorker:

“Lolita” is in the canon; “On the Road” is somewhat sub-canonical—also a tour de force, like Nabokov’s book, but considered more a literary phenomenon than a work of literature. On the other hand, it has had an equivalent influence. Nabokov showed writers how to squeeze a morality tale inside a Fabergé egg; Kerouac showed how to stretch a canvas across an entire continent. He made America a subject for literary fiction; he de-Europeanized the novel for American writers. Kerouac’s influence is all over Thomas Pynchon’s books: the protagonist in Pynchon’s first novel, “V.,” clearly alludes to Sal Paradise—his name is Benny Profane. Don DeLillo’s first novel, “Americana,” is Kerouac in spirit if not in style. John Updike scarcely qualifies as a Kerouac disciple, but Rabbit’s frightened flight by car in the beginning of “Rabbit, Run” is a kind of friendly, parodic allusion to the men of “On the Road.” And, as Howard Cunnell cleverly suggests in his edition of the scroll, “On the Road” might be called the first nonfiction novel: Kerouac’s book came out eight years before Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” It is certainly one of the literary sources of the New Journalism of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, the outburst of magazine pieces, by writers like Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion and Hunter Thompson, that took America and its weirdness as its great subject.

Read it all.


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