On the Road at Fifty

A polished voice from inside a black plastic box just told me the news. Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a book I still haven’t read, despite the protestations of literate, ragged-edged sons who’ve already made this trip more than once. Jack Kerouac wrote his “valentine to America” from a place of utter obscurity, a home-free restlessness that was geographic as well as spiritual.

So, in my usual chaotic and impulsive approach to what gets piled on my bedside table or stuffed in my knapsack, On the Road goes to the top of my Next Book list. I will have to, and am eager to, finish a second novel by one of my discoveries of the summer, a Scottish writer named Andrew O’Hagan. Our Fathers was filled with beautiful writing and memorable characters, and is an acid-tinged hymn to the importance of fathers. His Be Near Me concerns another kind of Father-hood, and has been taking me, a willing hostage, far away from Ottawa over the last week or so. Quite apart from dazzling writing and a heartbreakingly interesting narrator, his incidental descriptions of youth, education, social mores and fads are wonderfully quotable, and I will. Here’s one from today, on the habits of the narrator’s mother, who is a novellist.

“Every day in life she would go to her desk and work like a person expecting a cessation of talent or the final demise of her opportunity.”

As one reviewer said of a novellist I can’t recall, he is constitutionally unable to write a bad sentence. So, Andrew O’Hagan in the home stretch, and then I’ll indulge my inner beat poet and homeless wanderer. Did you know Kerouac was originally Canadian? (Or at least his father was. Fathers count.)

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