Looking for Jack Kerouac

The last line of the last book I’ve read in 2014 is probably my favorite last line of the year:

Breathing in the cool salty air in a place I was just starting to know, I was instantly carried back to a summer day in Indiana, playing baseball with my brother in our neighbor’s backyard:  the crack of the bat, the ball rising against the blue sky, and me already running, arm raised and reaching, so sure where it would land that I could already feel it slap against my glove.

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As with most last lines, reading the entire book gives much more insight into it’s meaning and I highly recommend reading Barbara Shoup’s novel Looking for Jack Kerouac.

The year is 1964 and Paul Carpetti stumbles upon a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in a Greenwich Village bookstore on his Senior trip to New York City before graduating high school.  Reading the novel provides the catalyst for Paul and his friend, Duke Walczak, to embark on their own road trip from Gary, Indiana to St. Petersburg, Florida in search of the real Jack Kerouac.

Once they discover and meet Kerouac, as with anyone who is put on a proverbial pedestal, he turns out to be vastly different from their expectations.  Paul, the narrator and protagonist, understands how this could happen.  Duke, who is arrogant and idealistic, seems to think it’s Kerouac’s fault for not living up to Duke’s expectations.  Duke takes off to California leaving Paul to discover both a new family, a new understanding of himself and a new way of grappling with losses back home.

Shoup beautifully incorporates literature, baseball and coming-of-age into a wonderful little story.  Paul’s confusion over and ultimate discovery of who he is and who he might be stays in the forefront of the story.  Baseball and Kerouac, while important to the plot and Paul’s journey, play out in the background as two of several ways in which Paul is pulled forward with his life.

I’ve always thought that fictionalizing a real person is walking a fine line for an author, but Shoup walks that line very well. The book reminds me some of W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.  J. D. Salinger is fictionalized in that novel which also involves baseball.

As a kid in the 1970’s, I made the road trip with my family numerous times from Dayton, Ohio to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  I have vivid memories of seeing numerous billboards along the way, one of them advertising the Weeki Wachi mermaids at Mermaid Springs.  I had a difficult time not laughing when Paul and Duke hitch a ride with one of the “mermaids” and end up at Mermaid Springs during off hours.

This novel made a great end to my reading for 2014.

Happy New Year!

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5 responses to “Looking for Jack Kerouac

  1. That is a great closing line…but then I’m very nostalgic about baseball. I didn’t care for On the Road, but this sounds very good. Just sooo many TBR ahead of it.

  2. I’m glad you liked this one, Dale. I read it near the end of the year too, and it was just the kind of lighter story i needed at the time, it was nice to meet the author at the Indy Writes Books launch party too. She’s also the director of the Indianapolis Writing Center here in town.

    Also,if you haven’t read it already, I’d recommend checking out Kerouac’s “Windblown World” which, as I recall, is largely excerpts from his journals and notebooks. He mentions his baseball ‘game’ that he played with playing cards and he even had a method of tracking his writing productivity and converting it to a kind of “batting average.” Interesting stuff.

    • Having read this novel and “Vigilante Poets” back to back (both by relatively local authors), I have to give the better novel to Shoup.

      It’s been a while since I’ve read any Kerouac. I know I haven’t blogged about anything by him. I think I’ll have to change that in 2015.

  3. Pingback: “Working a Jigsaw” by Barbara Shoup – selection #52 of Deal Me “IN” 2016 | Bibliophilopolis

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