I was intrigued to read Kerouac & Presley, given my fondness for iconic writers, musicians, and mavericks. I suspect, without previously encountering the author, that he’s an “everyman” free spirit. He’s done more than visit literary and musical pilgrimages and has lived, loved, and lost on the journey. He dares to put it in writing.
Pronovost’s memoir is pleasantly picaresque. André tells his story, on his terms, in his way, translated from French in his beloved Quebec.
André seems to delight in imaginative flights to the past where he can convene, converse, and console the departed. But he can get quickly sidelined by seemingly random observations and associations. Let us forgive him that because just around the corner is another unique observation.
A trip on the train reveals:
“We even enjoyed—what a fine surprise! Several backward lurches. It’s not something to complain about. You love trains like you love your father, with all his tics and his shortcomings. Nobody’s perfect.”
I wish Clarence Gagnon was able to illustrate this work. André’s words and faith could be honoured by the colour, sentiment, and dedication to the local landscape, people, and place. He bears a sense of longing, without bitterness.
“Can we really believe these stories? For God, nothing is impossible. So deeply did I love my father, so deeply my only sister Lison, so deeply certain people like Kerouac and Elvis, that I can only hope to see them again one day—finally to really see them.”
André seems to channel inspiration from Kerouac and Elvis to bring his passions and pursuits to life.
“I imagine myself on the road with Jack Kerouac in person. I imagine myself alongside Elvis, playing second guitar on “Jailhouse Rock.”
André fronts a regionally popular band perhaps not ironically called “Cavalcade of Stars” And expresses his passion for playing music with his friends:
“Another full house the guitars were fulminating. The drums held back then charged headlong against the darkness. The piano gave peace, not a chance. And the bass blamed current events, as always.”
Imagine a “Gibson-Everly” slinging Johnny Appleseed reincarnated today, wandering the Appalachian mountain range. Redemptive rock.
His head may be in his writing, but his heart and soul are in Bord-de-l’Eau, Quebec. He openly shares his love for his parents:
“Though he was a proud and pious man, my father rarely spoke of God. But Mother gave God and the Virgin names that could be found in no prayer book and in no scripture—names such as knitting, peace and quiet, pea soup, tenderness.”
Pronovost explores themes of desire, humanity, and suffering. Pivotal figures in his life tie through a common thread of sacrifice.
Denise McNair was “one of the four victims of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church” at a bible class in 1963…The nineteen sticks of dynamite placed in the church basement were detonated just before the Sunday children’s bible class was about to begin. The day’s topic was “The love that forgives.”
The author’s heartfelt comparison, empathy, and pathos for a life denied in its prime are to get closer to understanding his stance and particularly his affectation for the beloved Sr. Delores Hart. Delores Hart was (and is) an exceptional beauty and Hollywood starlet, who kissed Elvis on screen at the crest of his rise to stardom, and somewhere found the resolve to renounce her fame, fortune, and career to take the strict vows of a Benedictine Sister.
Fellow author, Fred. A. Reed, no less than a three-time award winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation, met André for the first time tending a non-relative’s family grave in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal, PQ. So, it begins what Reed describes in the introduction as their “remarkable confluence…An American prayer in prose and paragraphs.”
It “is the grave of Sharron Prior, the sixteen-year-old girl…who was kidnapped a few steps from her home on Holy Saturday, 1975, …her young life horrifically ended by an unidentified monster, never identified”.
The famous, infamous, and sometimes tragically forgotten are somehow all connected.
“the stars provided all the light I needed. My ancestors, too, lit my way. They know where I was. Sharron lit my way. She knew where I was. How sorry I feel for people whose faith and hope are based on reasoning or their connections with the church.”
Kerouac & Presley is a story of guilt, penance, pilgrimage, and peace.
“In the era in which we live, and above all at my age, a knapsack is all you need to terrify your fellow man…The forest has its own laws. Do not even think of transgressing them. In town, fine, you can pretend to be whatever you’re not. But not in the woods…Let me dream in peace. And let no one laugh when I walk into the bush, at nightfall, with my knapsack and my knife.”
To summarize is not to simplify.
“We do not pray enough. We do not sing enough. Just as blood nourishes our tissues, in like manner do prayer, walking and song constitute powerful weapons against the deterioration of the social fabric and the most self-mutilation that mankind has inflicted on itself—moral license.”
Dear André, may you keep your pack full, your songs alive, and your pen sharpened.
Originally from Laval, Quebec, André Pronovost has a Master’s degree in Animal Psychology. In 1978 he hiked the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other. His seventh book, Kerouac & Presley won the 2018 Quebec Arts Council (CALQ) literary prize. He lives in Montreal.
- Publisher : Linda Leith Publishing (March 6 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 338 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1773900641
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773900643
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