Monday, August 4, 2008

What Happened Later

Kerouac's sequel to On the Road was going to be called What Happened Later. Author Ray Robertson has claimed that title for this dual-threaded story of Kerouac's last road trip and the coming-of-age of "Ray Robertson" in Chatham, Ontario.

Young "Ray" grows up worshipping a pair of handsome counter-culture heroes, Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison of The Doors. They rebelled against the same stifling middle- and working-class existence that "Ray" finds himself shackled to.

Unfortunately "Ray" can't find a copy of On the Road anywhere. All he can do while planning his escape is listen to The Doors, and vicariously experience the lives of his two heroes through a pair of biographies, Jack's Book and No One Here Gets Out Alive.

Author Ray Robertson does a fine job portraying the family that "Ray" grows up in. Seen through the latter's eyes, they live a trite and dull existence. But through the reader's eyes, the family is a sweet idyll, especially when juxtaposed with what really happened later to Kerouac, who (like Morrison) turned into a bloated drunk.

While "Ray" seeks to escape his roots, Jack is trying to return to them, but the road trip to Riviere-du-Loup to investigate his Quebecois origins is a drunken disaster, nothing at all like the heroic journey related in On the Road. Yet part of What Happened Later's attraction is the homage Robertson pays to Kerouac:

Plus, riding shotgun across the country and back with brand new best pal Cassidy at the wheel gabbing his golden Okie patter from dusk to dawn and Jack realizing Oh my God, this is what literature is supposed to sound like -- one man simply telling another man the simple humiliations and agonies and always-too-late epiphanies that add up to his and everybody else's life -- and not a sack of tricky tropes to be toted out and professionally employed in order to expertly con the reader into imagining a pretty little Book Club approved daydream.

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