Beats: An Accounting

The Brits have funny ideas about American culture if they think that Smokey and the Bandit is somehow part of the Beat legacy. (Hey, why not RV, then? Kenny Rogers’ Six Pack?) But I appreciate the London Times asking—in the wake of the universally scathing reviews of the Jack Kerouac-William S. Burroughs collaboration, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tankswhat useful legacy the Beats actually have. Not much, on the evidence presented here, though the story is pretty fluffy. Still, it gets at a couple of the relevant issues about the Beat influence on American literature and culture, and calls out what is indeed one of the worst Beat lines: Kerouac’s “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

The Independent recently ran a more substantive piece about the genesis of the Kerouac-Burroughs collaboration and its final publication. Which leads me to ask: Are the Brits the only people who care about the Beat legacy anymore?

One thought on “Beats: An Accounting

  1. The book was more sophisticated (given the respective ages of the authors) than I expected it to be; it made a few shapely swerves from noir to Existential and back, nailed the ambient violence that haunted Bohemian poverty before Bohopov became a mainstream lifestyle choice. There was lots knowing wit in there (were the young, back then, s much more mature?- he asked, rhetorically), even when it sank to the level of the prank or the put-on, which happened often, early in the book.

    I have no idea how they worked on this but it felt, as I read it, that *they* had no idea what their intentions were until they’d put so much time into the project that treating it as a lark became unthinkable.

    It was better than any number of recently-published novels I’ve read. I think what bashing it’s suffered is from not-quite seasoned readers who seem to think that “good” fiction is full of professional sentences (a la Chabon) strung on workshopped arcs .

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