Kerouac began keeping journals in 1936, and continued for the rest of his life. The journals survive and editor Brinkley, writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1998, promised us publication of "a multi-volume edition." Now it seems that all we will be getting is this 370-page book, covering only some of the material from the years 1947 to 1950, and with just a few pages from 1954 thrown in as extra.
The parts that have been selected for inclusion are apparently aimed at demonstrating the development of Kerouac's first two major works, The Town & the City, and On the Road. Strange, then, that nothing from Kerouac's 1948-49 journal of work on the latter book is included, although some of it did appear as a taster in the extracts Brinkley selected for publication in The Atlantic Monthly in 1998. That must surely be one of the most relevant journals for those interested in the development of On the Road and its omission here is a mystery. (Note: Although not in the hardback edition, Kerouac's On the Road journal has been added as a "postscript" to the paperback edition of this book.) Other journal extracts published in Atlantic, and also in the New Yorker in 1998, are missing from the published book.
In his introduction, it seems to me that Brinkley places far too much emphasis on demolishing the "myth" that On the Road was frantically written in three weeks in April 1951, claiming that Kerouac had begun it much earlier. This may be news to Brinkley, but I'm sure that most Kerouac readers are already aware of that fact. They will have known it since Tim Hunt pointed out that Kerouac began working on the book in 1948, attempting at least five different versions over the next four years. Hunt published this information, with extracts from the earlier attempts, in his PhD thesis in 1975, and in his book, Kerouac's Crooked Road, in 1981.
There's no doubt that Kerouac DID write the version that eventually became the published On the Road in a three-week burst on a scroll of paper in April 1951. However, examination of the scroll reveals that it differs somewhat from the published version, with the insertion of material from his journals being added LATER, at a more leisurely pace, when Kerouac retyped it onto separate pages.
What we have in this volume makes fascinating reading, of course, and offers a little more insight into Kerouac's mind, and his working practices. Brinkley admits to editing the journals heavily in places, and also to mixing together parts from different journals, with no clear indication of the individual sources. The result of this can only be confusion.
This book has been six years in the making. I imagine that all Kerouac scholars and enthusiasts who have been waiting patiently for its appearance will need a copy, and will find the contents valuable. However, I do believe that an important opportunity has been missed to make this the truly outstanding work it could have been.