Title: Desolation Angels
Author: Jack Kerouac
Page Count/Review Word Count: 397
Desolation Angels contains everything that you’ve come to expect from Kerouac, from the stream-of-consciousness jazz-like rhythm of his beatnik writing to the way that he chronicles the lives of himself and his friends in 1950s America.
The book begins with a pensive Kerouac atop a mountain, Jack’s record of a long, lonely summer spent fire-watching. After this period of desolation, he returns to the bright lights of the big cities to meet up with his friends, many of whom were high-profile literary figures even at the time.
Expect to see plenty of familiar faces disguised behind new names, like Allen Ginsberg as Irwin Garden, William Burroughs as Bull Hubbard, Neal Cassady as Cody Pomeray, Gregory Corso as Raphael Urso, Peter Orlovski as Simon Darlovsky and Gary Snyder as Jarry Wagner. William Carlos Williams even makes an appearance as ‘Dr. Williams‘.
Kerouac’s style can be difficult to concentrate on for a long period of time, but it was just right for me to read on the bus on my daily commute. The book is split in to two sections, and these two sections are split further in to dozens of short chapters. Actually, this approach compliments Kerouac’s storytelling well, as the pauses help to make the novel feel more like a conversation.
As with most of Kerouac’s writing, this was difficult to categorise – in the end, I had to plump for both ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’. While his books are, essentially, non-fiction, occasional additions and the changing of the names is enough to qualify the work as semi-autobiographical. Frequent readers will notice that the aliases that he uses sometimes change from novel to novel – Cody Pomeray, for example, was Dean Moriarty in On the Road. Apparently, this is because of the objections of some of his publishers.
While Desolation Angels starts off slowly, it helps to convey the sense of loneliness and isolation that Kerouac was feeling while he whiled away the days on top of a mountainside. Just keep on reading – he soon comes down, and the introspective version of Kerouac that we see at the start of the novel quickly readjusts himself to life amongst his old friends. Let the drunken shenanigans commence.
Oh, and keep an eye out for Simon Darlovsky – he’ll probably try to penetrate you.