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Monday, April 9, 2012

Early Signs of Kerouac in 'Sea Is My Brother'

Long-lost novel reveals promise

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Drawing from his brief service in the Merchant Marines, Jack Kerouac wrote The Sea Is My Brother in the 1940s. Discovered recently among his papers, Kerouac's long-lost first novel has finally been brought to print by Da Capo Press.

The story begins with protagonist Wesley Martin, who has just spent his last $800 over two weeks, though he doesn't remember exactly where the money has gone. A gentle man, Martin saves a kitten from being run over in the street and ends up in a bar. While there, he is introduced to a love interest in Polly, who he eventually leaves behind. This is also where he meets Bill Everhart. The two new friends decide to ship out in the Merchant Marines, hitchhiking all the way from New York to Boston and sleeping under the stars. Everhart, being an academic, questions all options and waffles over what to do—his first thought is whether excitement and adventure trump his scholarly, predictable existence.

Of course, Martin ends up in jail after a confrontation with his estranged wife, who wants him to come home rather than continue as a vagabond. In a drunken stupor, Martin is arrested for disturbing the peace. When Everhart finds out that Martin has gone missing, he has to make a decision as to whether to go back to New York or get on the ship. He waits for the last moment until resigning himself to sailing alone without his friend (who just makes it back on the ship).

The Sea Is My Brother is chock-full of pathos, anticipation and hurt. Kerouac's characters, including the small role players, are a perfect blend of real people living real lives. It was a brilliant, youthful performance by the author, years before he changed the pace of literature with On the Road.