Sur la route

Jack Kerouac published his novel, On the Road, in 1957. It’s one of the defining works of the ‘Beat’ generation, a roman a clef based on his travels across America. For Kerouac, ‘the road’ means “nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Sur la route (Quale Press) is Cecilia Woloch’s ‘road’ novel, with her first-person narrator, Susannah, traveling to Paris, meeting new and old friends, exploring – and remembering – affaires de coeur. It’s set in the mid-1990s, and reads as though it may have been written yesterday.

Woloch’s prose is graceful and effortless, always with the surprising turn of phrase or image that marks the poet. She has published six books of poetry. This is her first published novel, or novella. It is divided into just over 200 brief chapters, and reads as though the narrator were sharing her own intimate thoughts in her own intimate journal. The reader, or eavesdropper, is intrigued and titillated by Susannah’s daring as she journeys, sans argent, into the relative unknown – navigating the night streets of Paris, sharing living quarters with accommodating strangers, launching into a relationship that is at once foreign and warmly intimate.

When it’s time to leave Paris and return to America, Susannah retrieves her battered suitcases, bids friends and lover adieu, and sets her sights firmly on ‘home.’ Her life in Los Angeles is only slightly less precarious than her month-long Paris excursion, but, as Kerouac says: “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”

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