Zac Bissonnette drew on hundreds of interviews to write a book about "mass delusion and the dark side of cute."
The writer Jack Kerouac is best known for his 1957 novel “On The Road,” but he wrote many other books and one of them has been lost to history until now.
“The Haunted Life” has just been published for the first time (excerpt below). It’s a coming of age story set in Galloway, a fictionalized version of Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Mass., in 1940 before the U.S. entered World War II.
Kerouac started writing “The Haunted Life” in 1944, a turbulent year for him. He was charged in connection with a murder and had gotten married essentially in exchange for bail money and was later cleared. America was at war. Two of his best friends from his hometown Lowell had been killed in combat.
He intended to write a multi-volume story about World War II through the eyes of Peter Martin’s family — Peter is the main character in “The Haunted Life.” But Kerouac lost the manuscript after he had completed just a few dozen pages.
The manuscript resurfaced a few years ago. It sold at auction and has now been published along some of Kerouac’s other writing and letter from his father Leo.
Todd Tietchen, an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, is the editor of “The Haunted Life: and Other Writings.”
Ultimately, Jack Kerouac’s life was a sad one. He died in Florida in 1969 after years of alcohol abuse. He’s buried in Edson Cemetery in Lowell. His family thought enough of him to have the affectionate French nickname “Ti Jean” carved into the gravestone.
Little John. He died at 47.
By Jack Kerouac
There is something about the American home in the suburbs that cures all apprehensions about life. The next afternoon found Peter Martin sitting on his porch with a glass of lemonade, listening to the Red Sox–Detroit game over the portable radio.
Aunt Marie’s green Venetian blinds shut out the four o’clock sun on the right and the Quigley elm provided a speckled green shade on the left. Kewpie the cat gazed disinterestedly at the quiet street from his station in front of the screen door. A fly buzzed at Peter’s ear and when he fanned it away, causing the hammock to creak at the exertion, Kewpie turned two placid green eyes and stared straight through him, wondering.
Peter liked to listen to ballgames. In the pauses during the announcer’s lack of something to say, one could hear the catcalls from the stands and benches, the distant pep-talk of catchers, and someone occasionally whistling. It was a vast and drowsy sound.
“Two and one . . . ” the announcer would say. Seconds later, almost as an abstracted afterthought, he would enlarge: “Two balls and one strike . . . ” A long silence follows. Someone, perhaps the shortstop, babbles his singsong encouragement to the pitcher. This chant returns again and again, without variation. One can hear the close tinkle of ice cubes as the announcer helps himself to a glass of cold water. Far off, perhaps from the sun bleachers, a voice cries out a long war-whoop. Then someone whistles . . .
“Here it comes,” says the announcer. There is a sudden quiet.
Thup! into the catcher’s mitt.
“Strike two, called strike, two and two.”
And again, the vast sleepy comingling of sounds in the hot afternoon sun. The shortstop’s weird chant returns, an aeroplane is heard from far off, and the first base coach suddenly hoots to distract the enemy pitcher.
“Bridges is ready . . . here’s the pitch.”
Tack! The silence is punctuated with this sound and an enthusiastic mass cry is raised. The announcer’s voice is almost drowned: “ . . . There’s a long one . . . out to the left field fence . . .way over . . . ” There is confusion. Action has broken out in the hot sun, swift and vicious, dead in earnest. “ . . . Cronin is rounding first . . . there’s the throw in . . . it’s going to be close, very—” The crowd furnishes the emotion of the action going on at second base, the announcer is too rapt to convey what he sees. “He . . . is . . . SAFE! Safe at second, a double . . . ” The crowd’s long subsiding cheer, which will eventually slide into a sigh and a rummaging of seats regained, begins, as the announcer gathers his wits. “A two-bagger for Skipper Joe Cronin, a long belt off the left field fence . . . ”
Ten seconds later, the quiet returns and the monotonous procedure is resumed, the procedure which, during fourteen hundred innings or so in a baseball season, must be carried out slowly, carefully, and perhaps lethargically in one hundred and fifty afternoons of hot sun, infield dust, and white-blinding shirt-sleeved crowds. And throughout the country, broadcast over millions of radio sets, in fire departments (where firemen loll in chairs beside their fire engines, glittering red and rampant in repose, in the long concrete coolness of the garages); in poolrooms where the billiard balls click and the fans whir; in beery, cool, brass-gleaming saloons, where men sit ranged at the bars in complete silence; and on porches in the suburbs, the great and sleepy sound of the baseball game is brought to Americans, the distant whistling, the repeated chant, and the thup of the ball in the catcher’s mitt.
Peter liked to listen to ballgames, especially when it was too hot to read or take a walk or go to a movie. He could concentrate on the drama of the game without too much paying of attention, for the thread of the action could always be picked up, after a long soporific sequence, at the instant of the crowd’s sudden roar. In the interims, one had time to relax and steal a fancy or two.
It was during one of these drowsy pauses, as Peter finished his lemonade, that Dick Sheffield mounted the front steps and stopped. The sun caught his straw-colored hair and made frizzy wisps of gold.
Peter looked up as Dick was striking a pose intended to convey his contempt.
“The supine pariah,” he said, opening the screen door.
“Dick. Come in. What are you doing?”
Dick sat down on the footstool; he never made himself too comfortable, he was always ready to resume his energies.
“How’s the desk job?” chided Peter.
“All right, all right, but it won’t be long. I’m on to something really hot this time.” Dick paused to readjust his position. “The South Sea islands, m’boy. How can you waste your time listening to a ballgame?—you can get the results in the papers . . . ”
Peter had lighted a cigarette.
“What are you talking about? . . . the South Sea islands!” Peter said. “Another of your mad plans? Am I coming along on this voyage?”
Dick was half-resentful. “Certainly you are. You just leave it to Uncle Dick . . . follow me and you’ll have the greatest adventure of your life. It’s simple. We’ll be in this war before you can say Jack Robinson. Okay. So you and I enlist in the Army, and when the war comes, boom! we’re in the middle of everything. Remember that picture about soldiering in the Philippines, The Real Glory?—well, Pete, that’s the ticket for us. My brother knows a guy enlisted in the Army last Fall—where is he now? In the tropics, the Philippines m’boy, Manila . . . ”
“Sounds swell!” said Peter. “Unless, of course, everything goes haywire, like last Summer when we were supposed to hitch-hike to New Orleans and . . . ”
“Different matter, m’boy! We didn’t collect the cash amount we had in mind. Economic determinism . . . so we didn’t go to Nola. But this is the Army . . . don’t cost a cent to join the Army. And—” he raised his hand to silence Peter, who had opened his mouth to speak—“don’t bring up other instances!”
“That play we were going to put on in Fordboro . . . ”
“I know, money again. We didn’t have enough money to put it on, so what? We wrote the script didn’t we? Put out the radio or get some music or something. Any cookies in the house?”
“Yeah,” grinned Peter.
“Fetch me some. I know Aunt Marie isn’t home, I saw her on the Square twenty minutes ago.”
They walked into the cool hallway.
“So,” said Peter, “you took the first bus up here to get some cookies.”
“Partly correct. I also have the afternoon off. Strike at the silk mill. And, by the way, those cookies of hers are good. Did she put a lot of chocolate in them like I told her?” They were in the brightly curtained kitchen.
“Hell, yes,” said Peter, opening the breadbox. He took out a dish of cookies wrapped in cellophane paper. “Milk?”
“Ice cold milk? . . . you express my sentiments.”
Dick sat on the cool, shiny linoleum and began to eat.
“I wish,” he said, “my mother made some of these. Look—” waving a cookie—“this new plan of mine is tops. We want to travel, right? We want adventure, we’re sick of this hole in the wall, right? So we join the Army.”
Peter was standing by the cupboard drinking milk. He grinned irrepressibly at Dick.
“Who wants to stay in Galloway all his life?” continued Dick. “Didn’t we promise each other we’d get around the world sometime? Did we try to go to sea . . . when was it?”
“Five years ago this summer—”
“Okay, and we were too young, they didn’t want to ship us out. Unions and all that. Did we try to go to sea five years ago because we wanted to suck our thumbs? No, we wanted the real life. Well, here we are, going on to twenty, still at home, still in Galloway, the furthest we’ve gone south is New Haven, the furthest north a hike to the lower White Mountains, the furthest east is Boston, and the furthest west—Vermont! What a couple of slobs we turned out to be! Here I am wasting my time in a silk mill office, with my feet on the desk all day long—and you! Making a Joe College out of yourself so you can sell insurance after you graduate . . . ”
Peter shouted, laughing, “Insurance! Man, that’s no ambition of mine.”
“It all amounts to the same, you’ll see.” Dick got up to get some more cookies and then regained his seat on the floor. “We’re flops, both of us. I’m ashamed. We used to say we’d go to Hollywood someday, write, act, anything they want . . . why hell, do you think these people will want us now, we’ve seen nothing, have been nowhere, have not lived and loved Polynesian maids, nothing!”
“Okay Goethe, don’t lose your temper.”
“Not Goethe, m’boy. Sheffield. Now listen, you and I go to Boston via the thumb next week and see about enlisting in the United States Army, huh?”
Peter shrugged, regaining a seriousness he never could attain while Dick was launched on one of his long monologues.
“I dunno, Dickie.”
Dick got up and washed his empty glass in the white sink.
“I’d be game to do anything for the summer, you know that,” went on Peter in a considering, preoccupied tone. “The summer represents a time-off period from what you might call my career . . . huh! I dunno . . . After that, I must return to the scholarship duties, track, studies, and everything else. I do hate that place! I mean, college itself . . . ”
“Of course you do,” provided Dick, replacing the cookies in the breadbox. “College is no place for a guy like you and me. You surrender all your greatest talents there.”
“Why, hell, to that system of concessions called society.”
“You’ve been reading John Dewey.”
Dick moved off down the hall: “It’s fact. What the hell good is life if you don’t live it to the bone? Jack London was a great liver, Halliburton, even Herodotus . . . there was a man! To hell with college! Did I ever advise you to go to college?”
“No,” said Dick. “you let circumstances drag you along. Be like Hamlet . . . baffle circumstances.”
They sat on the hammock.
“My father would split a blood vessel,” Peter said, “if I left college. He’s banking all his hopes on me after Wesley took off. He wants me to go places.”
Dick opened his mouth in contempt.
“Go places!” he echoed. “And is it you going places? Not you . . . Wesley! I was reading Lawrence of Arabia this morning in my office. Why, hell—”
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” broke in Peter.
“So?” Dick asked, pausing for effect. “The romantics have more on the ball than the others. Those who laugh at the romantics are just jealous bank clerks and unsuccessful writers who become critics. A romantic is a realist who digs in and lives so that he can learn more about everything. Who really knows more about realism than the romantic? Will they ask you that question at Boston College, heh?”
“Pertinence, wisdom, Dick, and allied virtues.”
“Sure! I’m your uncle, just stick close on and you’ll learn all about it. you haven’t learned a thing since you went to college. I was going to phone you the other night and tell you.”
Diane Martin came up the street with a high school classmate. Peter watched them, two girls carrying books, walking beneath the richly leaved trees in attitudes of complete insouciance, oblivious to everything but Galloway and its school-world, dates and dances and a new outfit for Easter.
“The Philippines, Pete,” Dick was saying. “Just the ticket, and I got it straight from my brother. He’s in California and he knows what’s brewing . . . the Japanese are hot for war. It’s a natural chance for us.”
Peter shook his head slowly, a gesture he used whenever he was made conscious of the mysterious contradictions in life. His sister Diane, and her world; and Dick, who had always thirsted for the fantastic and dangerous. A girl whose main concerns were so incomprehensible to Peter, and yet so easy to define, that he sometimes thought all women were essentially like Diane and that he would always know and recognize, yet never understand, the ways of women. And here, Dick sat thinking about things, and hungering after things, that Diane would never understand and—because of that—would never accept as part of the design of life, while Dick could only ignore her and her world in the fury of his imagination and creative energy, and if made cognizant of hers, the smalltown girl’s world, could only scoff and carry on with his concerns.
Diane and her companion mounted the porch steps and swung open the screen door. Dick looked up briefly and called a greeting typical of his well-rounded dash.
“The ladies have arrived . . . hiya Diane!”
“Hello, Richard,” said Diane gravely, ignoring his gallantry while the other girl giggled and turned her head away. “How’s Annie?”
“Swell,” Dick smiled.
And with that, Diane went into the house followed by her bashful classmate.
“All you have to do is make up your mind,” Dick was now saying.
“I know how it is. your decision concerns more than mine did. With you, it’s ‘shall I leave college and join the Army?’ With me, it’s just ‘shall I join the Army?’ By the way, I’ll be over Sunday night for that odd game of chess. you owe me two bucks and a half!”
Peter nodded, watching Dick.
“If the strike lasts all week, I’ll be over some night and we’ll go swimming at the Brook, maybe Garabed the mad poet will come, huh?”
“He will; he’s always wandering around nearby.”
“Well,” said Dick. “As they say in the cowboy pictures when the villain leaves the honest rancher’s house, think it over!” He laughed and got up, swinging the hammock back and forth to rock Peter. “I’m a bad influence. Look out for me. Remember the time I egged you on to go on that chicken coop roof during the flood and we almost didn’t get off when it started floating down the rapids?”
Dick went to the door and stepped out onto the porch.
“I’ll walk you down to the bus,” Peter said. “And as for you being a bad influence, who was it started you on an alcoholic career? I was the first one to get you drunk . . . remember that quart of Calvert’s?”
Dick grimaced. “Not for me. I keep myself in shape for the future . . . ”
They walked down North Street toward the bus stop. The sun had by now lost its afternoon fury; heavy clustered leaves overhead seemed to sigh with gentle relief, hung in green profusion waiting for an ebbing of the heat and sunfire.
Dick and Peter stood at the bus stop. Dick had produced his thick wallet and was examining a piece of paper.
“I have a prospect here, Pete, that might come in handy—should we decide to hold off the Army for a month or two. It’s a good paying job . . . ”
“What kind of work?”
“The best! Laboring in the sun. That French contractor from Riverside has the contract. Building a wire fence around the Portsmouth Navy yard in New Hampshire—just near Kittery, Maine. I could get the old Buick in shape and drive up every morning—at least forty bucks a week. How would you like that? Good for you, m’boy, get hard as nails and brown to a crisp.”
“Here comes the bus. Well, Pete, I’ll drop over maybe this week again. Think everything out.”
“You know,” Pete said, “your family should never have moved away from North Street. Up there in West Galloway the only thing they do is go to church. We never see each other anymore—remember when I’d call you every night after supper? Those were the days . . . ”
Dick put his hand to his mouth and called their secret cry, a single yodel. The bus pulled up and yawned open its doors and Dick dashed in. He paid his fare and hastened to the back of the bus, where he stuck his head out of the window and yodeled again, waving goodbye. The bus growled cityward.
Excerpted from the book THE HAUNTED LIFE by Jack Kerouac. Copyright © 2014 by John Sampas, the Estate of Stella Kerouac. Reprinted with permission of Da Capo Press.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And happy birthday, Jack Kerouac. The beat writer was born on March 12th, 1922. He died in 1969, at the age of 47. Jack Kerouac's best-known work, "On the Road," told the story of Sal Paradise, the budding writer, and his wild friend Dean Moriarty and the cross-country trips they took. It was loosely based on Kerouac's exploits. In fact, he once wrote Marlon Brando and pitched him the idea of a movie. I'll play Sal, he wrote. You play Dean. Sadly, Brando never responded, although the book was turned into a film in 2012.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ON THE ROAD")
SAM RILEY: (As Sal Paradise) The purity of the road. The white line in the middle of the highway unrolled and hugged our left front tire as if glued to our groove. And zoom went the car, and we were off again for California.
YOUNG: Well, now maybe there is another movie down the road. This month, a novella by Jack Kerouac, lost for decades, is being published for the first time. It's called "The Haunted Life." And HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock went to Kerouac Memorial Park in the writer's hometown to find out more.
ALEX ASHLOCK, BYLINE: Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, an old New England mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River, which, on a recent spring-like day, was flowing ice-free. The town serves as the backdrop for much of his writing, including "The Haunted Life," which Kerouac started when he was 22 years old.
TODD TIETCHEN: I'm guessing it's around 1940 in Lowell when "The Haunted Life" takes place. People were struggling in Lowell.
ASHLOCK: They were struggling with the aftermath of the Great Depression and the approach of World War II. That's Todd Tietchen. He is an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts. He edited "The Haunted Life." It's a story set in Galloway, which is really a fictionalized Lowell. The main character in the story is Peter Martin. He's a young college student and a track star. He's back home for the summer.
TIETCHEN: He seems to be split between, I suppose, the expectations that his father and other people in the community have him in terms of being some sort of successful athlete, and using his athleticism as an opportunity for greater things. Whereas, at the same time, he seems to have artistic ambition and spending - he spends much of his time not only writing poetry, but talking about literature and art and music. That seems to be his passion.
ASHLOCK: Peter's buddies in the novella, Garabed Tourian and Dick Sheffield, are based on two of Kerouac's real-life friends in Lowell, Sebastian Sampas and Billy Chandler. Sebastian and Billy were both killed in World War II. And Todd Tietchen says this early work that's so clearly devoted to them strikes a theme Kerouac would return to in the rest of his writing.
TIETCHEN: I've come to see Kerouac's work as, in many ways, this epic cycle of memorialization. And I think that the haunt - the title "The Haunted Life" refers particularly to the death of Sebastian and Billy, and being haunted.
ASHLOCK: The characters in "The Haunted Life" can see World War II coming. Here's a scene in the book, Peter and Garabed walking on a warm summer night talking about the possibility they might have to fight.
TIETCHEN: At some point, Peter says, if we get into it, look out. I mean, goodbye, Garabed. Goodbye, Peter. Garabed leaned backed and clasped his knees. Maybe, grinned Peter, if we listen and be quiet, we can hear the guns. They were silent. The train, miles away, wailed a long, dim cry. Same old sleepy America, went on Peter. Look at that self-same old river. Do you remember when we first dared to swim all the way across? Years ago.
I think we were in grammar school. But I was always a better swimmer than you. Garabed was sifting sand through his fingers. The wind is rising, he said. And the rivers flow, remember? From Woolf. Yes, I'll remember. I'll remember. The train was only a mile away. They could hear the rails back of the bushes sing with the oncoming roar. And the oncoming roar evidently is, I mean, I think the oncoming roar is the war coming.
ASHLOCK: Todd Tietchen says Kerouac intended to tell the story of World War II through the eyes of Peter Martin's family. And Kerouac knew it would be a sad look.
TIETCHEN: I think that one of the reasons that he becomes so drawn to Eastern philosophy and its notions of impermanence and intransience might be related to, ultimately, to - well, the death of his brother when he was 4, then the death of so many friends during World War II, which led him to be quite haunted by his own mortality. And I think that writing, for him, became a way to try to preserve some sense of a self and some sense of the world and the people that he had encountered, knowing quite well that, you know, we're all passing through, in a sense.
ASHLOCK: Kerouac said he left this manuscript in a taxicab, but Tietchen says that's a romantic story he probably made up. What probably happened was that he left the pages in Allen Ginsberg's dorm room at Columbia University when he was staying there. Either way, it's a story that was never really finished. But what we have left behind ends this way.
TIETCHEN: Peter got up and leaned against the wall and looked at the quiet street below. His room had darkened. The sun had grown huge and bleary red, a breeze touched off the shaking of tree leaves, and soon it would be summertime dusk. Voices below rose softly in the air as soft. A tender shroud was being lowered on this life.
With the darkness, and with the smell and feel of it, would come the old sounds of the suburban American summer's night. The tinkle of soft drinks, the squeaking of hammocks, the screened-in voices on dark porches, the radio's staccato enthusiasm, a dog barking, a boy's special nighttime cry, and the cool swishing song of the trees - a music sweeter than anything else in the world, a music that can be seen - profusely green, leaf on leaf atremble - and a music that can be smelled, clover fresh, somehow sharp, and supremely rich.
ASHLOCK: There's still snow on the ground in Edson Cemetery, where Jack Kerouac is buried. People place things around his gravestone: scraps of paper, beer bottles, packs of cigarettes. Kerouac's parents were French Canadian. And carved into the gravestone, the affectionate nickname Little John. Jack Kerouac would have been 92 years old today.
For HERE AND NOW, I'm Alex Ashlock.
YOUNG: And you can see pictures of Alex's trip to Lowell, taken by his son, Casey - what a great road trip for them - as well as read an excerpt of "The Haunted Life" at hereandnow.org.
You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.