In 1957 Gilbert Millstein wrote his now famous review of Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road: “… its publication is an historic occasion in so far as exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion (multiplied a millionfold by the speed and pound of communication).”
As far as book reviews go, it may be the most famous first paragraph of all time, and one that came to mind on reading D.A. Blyler’s debut novel Steffi’s Club. I’d been following Blyler’s work online for several years when I ordered my copy from his publisher BurnhillWolf Books. His essays for the likes of Salon.com, G21, and Zinos.com have always been a breath of fresh air from ordinary internet fodder.
In many respects, Blyler’s writing couldn’t be more dissimilar to Kerouac’s. He is much more succinct, satirical, and laissez-faire toward the souls around him than Kerouac ever was. Yet with Steffi’s Club, the author of The 7 Vices of Highly Creative People asserts himself as the spokesman of a yet-to-be-defined generation just as strongly and with a lyricism as restrained and touching as Kerouac’s was beatific.
Blyler’s novel doesn’t possess the bop prosody of Kerouac (and would be inauthentic if it tried to), but it has a cadence and rhythm that mainlines the cerebellum. As with On The Road, once picked up, the pages stick to the senses like opium and haunt the mind with sympathetic and sweetly humorous depictions of the human condition.
For Kerouac, the Catholic, his Sal Paradise finds himself mingling with bums, hoboes, and drug avatars. For Blyler, the Protestant, it’s a subterranean world of prostitution and criminality in the Czech Republic to which his protagonist Daniel Fischer is drawn. Exciting places to be, for sure, and one that Jesus favored for perhaps similar reasons.
When Kerouac set out into the bowels of the heartland, he said that he wanted to write about “the America that had yet to be uttered,” and when Blyler embarked on his journey across the Atlantic and into Eastern Europe he remarked simply that it was a “lack of good material,” the U.S. having become a homogenized McDonald’s consumer playground. Ultimately both authors sought the same goal. To live among individuals who, as Kerouac wrote, burned like fabulous yellow Roman candles, and who Blyler realizes are increasingly difficult to find in our modern, globalized, world.
In writing On The Road and Steffi’s Club, Jack Kerouac and D.A. Blyler, both leave behind documents of generational angst, love, and loss that won’t be soon forgotten. One might only hope that Blyler at 35 (same age as Kerouac when On The Road was published) won’t turn to the slow suicide of whiskey that felled his counterpart but will reinvigorate himself like Tom Robbins with the mantra “Joy in spite of Everything!”