Desolation Angels: A Novel

Desolation Angels: A Novel

by Jack Kerouac

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A young man searches for meaning, creates art, and grapples with fame in this semiautobiographical Beat Generation classic by the author of On the Road.

This urgently paced yet deeply introspective novel closely tracks Jack Kerouac’s own life. Jack Duluoz journeys from the Cascade Mountains to San Francisco, Mexico City, New York, and Tangier. While working as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the Cascades, Duluoz contemplates his inner void and the distressing isolation brought on by his youthful sense of adventure. In Tangier he suffers a similar feeling of desperation during an opium overdose, and in Mexico City he meets up with a morphine-addicted philosopher and seeks an antidote to his solitude in a whorehouse.

As in Kerouac’s other novels, Desolation Angels features a lively cast of pseudonymous versions of his fellow Beat poets, including William S. Burroughs (as Bull Hubbard), Neal Cassady (as Cody Pomeray), and Allen Ginsberg (as Irwin Garden). Duluoz draws readers into the trials and tribulations of these literary iconoclasts—from drug-fueled writing frenzies and alcoholic self-realizations to frenetic international road trips and tumultuous love affairs. Achieving literary success comes with its own consequences though, as Duluoz and his friends must face the scrutiny that comes with rising to the national stage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504034012
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 03/22/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 409
Sales rank: 266,060
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was an American writer best known for his novel On the Road. Originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac attended Columbia University. Along with his friends, including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, Kerouac was a key figure in the counterculture movement known as the Beat Generation. He wrote his first novel, The Town and the City, about his struggle to balance the expectations of his family with his unconventional life. Kerouac took several cross-country trips with Cassady, which became the basis for On The Road. He published several more novels including Doctor Sax, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, and his final great work, Big Sur. He settled with his mother and his wife, Stella Sampas, in Florida, where he died in 1969 at age forty-seven.

Read an Excerpt

Desolation Angels

A Novel

By Jack Kerouac


Copyright © 1993 Jan Kerouac
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-3401-2


Part One

Desolation in Solitude


Those afternoons, those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snowcovered rock all around, looming Mount Hozomeen on my north, vast snowy Jack to the south, the encharmed picture of the lake below to the west and the snowy hump of Mt. Baker beyond, and to the east the rilled and ridged monstrosities humping to the Cascade Ridge, and after that first time suddenly realizing "It's me that's changed and done all this and come and gone and complained and hurt and joyed and yelled, not the Void" and so that every time I thought of the void I'd be looking at Mt. Hozomeen (because chair and bed and meadowgrass faced north) until I realized "Hozomeen is the Void — at least Hozomeen means the void to my eyes" — Stark naked rock, pinnacles and thousand feet high protruding from hunch-muscles another thousand feet high protruding from immense timbered shoulders, and the green pointy-fir snake of my own (Starvation) ridge wriggling to it, to its awful vaulty blue smokebody rock, and the "clouds of hope" lazing in Canada beyond with their tittlefaces and parallel lumps and sneers and grins and lamby blanks and puffs of snout and mews of crack saying "Hoi! hoil earth!" — the very top tittermost peak abominables of Hozomeen made of black rock and only when storms blow I dont see them and all they do is return tooth for tooth to storm an imperturbable surl for cloudburst mist — Hozomeen that does not crack like cabin rigging in the winds, that when seen from upsidedown (when I'd do my headstand in the yard) is just a hanging bubble in the illimitable ocean of space —

Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen, like a tiger sometimes with stripes, sunwashed rills and shadow crags wriggling lines in the Bright Daylight, vertical furrows and bumps and Boo! crevasses, boom, sheer magnificent Prudential mountain, nobody's even heard of it, and it's only 8,000 feet high, but what a horror when I first saw that void the first night of my staying on Desolation Peak waking up from deep fogs of 20 hours to a starlit night suddenly loomed by Hozomeen with his two sharp points, right in my window black — the Void, every time I'd think of the Void I'd see Hozomeen and understand — Over 70 days I had to stare it.


Yes, for I'd thought, in June, hitch hiking up there to the Skagit Valley in northwest Washington for my fire lookout job "When I get to the top of Desolation Peak and everybody leaves on mules and I'm alone I will come face to face with God or Tathagata and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence and suffering and going to and fro in vain" but instead I'd come face to face with myself, no liquor, no drugs, no chance of faking it but face to face with ole Hateful Duluoz Me and many's the time I thought I die, suspire of boredom, or jump off the mountain, but the days, nay the hours dragged and I had no guts for such a leap, I had to wait and get to see the face of reality — and it finally comes that afternoon of August 8 as I'm pacing in the high alpine yard on the little wellworn path I'd beaten, in dust and rain, on many a night, with my oil lamp banked low inside the cabin with the four-way windows and peaked pagoda roof and lightning rod point, it finally comes to me, after even tears, and gnashing, and the killing of a mouse and attempted murder of another, something I'd never done in my life (killing animals even rodents), it comes in these words: "The void is not disturbed by any kind of ups or downs, my God look at Hozomeen, is he worried or tearful? Does he bend before storms or snarl when the sun shines or sigh in the late day drowse? Does he smile? Was he not born out of madbrained turmoils and upheavals of raining fire and now's Hozomeen and nothing else? Why should I choose to be bitter or sweet, he does neither? — Why cant I be like Hozomeen and O Platitude O hoary old platitude of the bourgeois mind "take life as it comes" — Twas that alcoholic biographer, W. E. Woodward, said, "There's nothing to life but just the living of it" — But O God I'm bored! But is Hozomeen bored? And I'm sick of words and explanations. Is Hozomeen?

Aurora Borealis
over Hozomeen —
The void is stiller

— Even Hozomeen'll crack and fall apart, nothing lasts, it is only a faring-in-that-which-everything-is, a passing-through, that's what's going on, why ask questions or tear hair or weep, the burble blear purple Lear on his moor of woes he is only a gnashy old flap with winged whiskers beminded by a fool — to be and not to be, that's what we are — Does the Void take any part in life and death? does it have funerals? or birth cakes? why not I be like the Void, inexhaustibly fertile, beyond serenity, beyond even gladness, just Old Jack (and not even that) and conduct my life from this moment on (though winds blow through my windpipe), this ungraspable image in a crystal ball is not the Void, the Void is the crystal ball itself and all my woes the Lankavatara Scripture hairnet of fools, "Look sirs, a marvelous sad hairnet" — Hold together, Jack, pass through everything, and everything is one dream, one appearance, one flash, one sad eye, one crystal lucid mystery, one word — Hold still, man, regain your love of life and go down from this mountain and simply bebe — be the infinite fertilities of the one mind of infinity, make no comments, complaints, criticisms, appraisals, avowals, sayings, shooting stars of thought, just flow, flow, be you all, be you what it is, it is only what it always is — Hope is a word like a snow-drift — This is the Great Knowing, this is the Awakening, this is Voidness — So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless and dont be sorry — Prunes, prune, eat your prunes — And you have been forever, and will be forever, and all the worrisome smashings of your foot on innocent cupboard doors it was only the Void pretending to be a man pretending not to know the Void —

I come back into the house a new man.

All I have to do is wait 30 long days to get down from the rock and see sweet life again — knowing it's neither sweet nor bitter but just what it is, and so it is —

So long afternoons I sit in my easy (canvas) chair facing Void Hozomeen, the silence hushes in my little shack, my stove is still, my dishes glitter, my firewood (old sticks that are the form of water and welp, that I light small Indian fires with in my stove, to make quick meals) my firewood lies piled and snaky in the corner, my canned goods wait to be opened, my old cracked shoes weep, my pans lean, my dish rags hang, my various things sit silent around the room, my eyes ache, the wind wallows and belts at the window and upped shutters, the light in late afternoon shades and bluedarks Hozomeen (revealing his streak of middle red) and there's nothing for me to do but wait — and breathe (and breathing is difficult in the thin high air, with West Coast sinus wheezings) — wait, breathe, eat, sleep, cook, wash, pace, watch, never any forest fires — and daydream, "What will I do when I get to Frisco? Why first thing I'll get a room in Chinatown" — but even nearer and sweeter I daydream what I'll do Leaving Day, some hallowed day in early September, "I'll walk down the trail, two hours, meet Phil in the boat, ride to the Ross Float, sleep there a night, chat in the kitchen, start early in the morning on the Diablo Boat, go right from that little pier (say hello to Walt), hitch right to Marblemount, collect my pay, pay my debts, buy a bottle of wine and drink it by the Skagit in the afternoon, and leave next morning for Seattle" — and on, down to Frisco, then L.A., then Nogales, then Guadalajara, then Mexico City — And still the Void is still and'll never move —

But I will be the Void, moving without having moved.


Aw, and I remember sweet days of home that I didn't appreciate when I had them — afternoons then, when I was 15, 16, it meant Ritz Brothers crackers and peanut butter and milk, at the old round kitchen table, and my chess problems or self-invented baseball games, as the orange sun of Lowell October'd slant thru the porch and kitchen curtains and make a lazy dusty shaft and in it my cat'd be licking his forepaw laplap with tiger tongue and cue tooth, all undergone and dust betided, Lord — so now in my dirty torn clothes I'm a bum in the High Cascades and all I've got for a kitchen is this crazy battered stove with cracked stovepipe rust — stuffed, yea, at the ceiling, with old burlap, to keep the rats of night out — days long ago when I could have simply walked up and kissed either my mother or my father and say "I like you because someday I'll be an old bum in desolation and I'll be alone and sad" — O Hozomeen, the rocks of it gleam in the downgo sun, the inaccessible fortress parapets stand like Shakespeare in the world and for miles around not a thing knows the name of Shakespeare, Hozomeen or me —

Late afternoon long ago home, and even recently in North Carolina when, to recall childhood, I did eat Ritz and peanut butter and milk at four, and played the baseball game at my desk, and it was schoolboys in scuffed shoes coming home just like me hungry (and I'd make them special Jack Bananasplits, only a measly six months ago) — But here on Desolation the wind whirls, desolate of song, shaking rafters of the earth, progenitating night — Giant bat shadows of cloud hover on the mountain.

Soon dark, soon my day's dishes done, meal eaten, waiting for September, waiting for the descent to the world again.


Meanwhile the sunsets are mad orange fools raging in the gloom, whilst far in the south in the direction of my intended loving arms of señoritas, snowpink piles wait at the foot of the world, in general silver ray cities — the lake is a hard pan, gray, blue, waiting at the mist bottoms for when I ride her in Phil's boat — Jack Mountain as always receives his meed of little cloud at highbrow base, his thousand football fields of snow all raveled and pink, that one unimaginable abominable snowman still squatted petrified on the ridge — Golden Horn far off is yet golden in a gray southeast — Sourdough's monster hump overlooks the lake — Surly clouds blacken to make fire rims at that forge where the night's being hammered, crazed mountains march to the sunset like drunken cavaliers in Messina when Ursula was fair, I would swear that Hozomeen would move if we could induce him but he spends the night with me and soon when stars rain down the snowfields he'll be in the pink of pride all black and yaw-y to the north where (just above him every night) North Star flashes pastel orange, pastel green, iron orange, iron blue, azurite indicative constellative auguries of her makeup up there that you could weigh on the scales of the golden world —

The wind, the wind —

And there's my poor endeavoring human desk at which I sit so often during the day, facing south, the papers and pencils and the coffee cup with sprigs of alpine fir and a weird orchid of the heights wiltable in one day — My Beechnut gum, my tobacco pouch, dusts, pitiful pulp magazines I have to read, view south to all those snowy majesties — The waiting is long.

On Starvation Ridge
little sticks
Are trying to grow.


Only the night before my decision to live loving, I had been degraded, insulted, and made mournful by this dream:

"And get a good tenderloin steak!" says Ma handing Deni Bleu the money, she's sending us to the store to get a good supper, also she's suddenly decided to put all her confidence in Deni these later years now that I've become such a vague ephemeral undeciding being who curses the gods in his bed sleep and wanders around bareheaded and stupid in the gray darkness — It's in the kitchen, it's all agreed, I dont say anything, we go off — In the front bedroom by the stairs Pa is dying, is in his death bed and practically dead already, it's in spite of that that Ma wants a good steak, wants to plank her last human hope on Deni, on some kind of decisive solidarity — Pa is thin, pale, his bed sheets white, it seems to me he's dead already — We go down in the gloom and negotiate our way somehow to the butcher store in Brooklyn in the downtown main streets around Flatbush — Bob Donnelly is there and the rest of the gang, bareheaded and bummy in the street — A gleam has now come in Deni's eyes as he sees his chance to turn tail and become a con man with all Ma's money in his hand, in the store he orders the meat but I see him pulling shortchange tricks and stuffing money in his pocket and making some kind of arrangement to renege on her agreement, her last agreement — She had pinned her hopes on him, I was of no more avail — Somehow we wander from there and dont go back to Ma's house and wind up in the River Army which is dispatched, after watching a speedboat race, to swim downstream in the cold swirling dangerous waters — The speedboat, if it had been a "long" one could have dived right under the flotilla'd crowd and come up the other side and completed its time but because of faulty short design the racer (Mr. Darling) complains that that was the reason his boat just ducked under the crowd and got stuck there and couldnt go on — big official floats took note.

Me in the lead gang, the Army starts swimming downstream, we are going to the bridges and cities below. The water is cold and the current extremely bad but I swim and struggle on. "How'd I get here?" I think. "What about Ma's steak? What did Deni Bleu do with her money? Where is he now? O I have no time to think!" Suddenly from a lawn by the St. Louis de France church on the shore I hear kids shouting a message at me, "Hey your mother's in the insane asylum! Your mother's gone to the insane asylum! Your father's dead!" and I realize what's happened and still, swimming and in the Army, I'm stuck struggling in the cold water, and all I can do is grieve, grieve, in the hoar necessitous horror of the morning, bitterly I hate myself, bitterly it's too late yet while I feel better I still feel ephemeral and unreal and unable to straighten my thoughts or even really grieve, in fact I feel too stupid to be really bitter, in short I dont know what I'm doing and I'm being told what to do by the Army and Deni Bleu has played a wood on me too, at last, to get his sweet revenge but mostly it's just that he's decided to become an out-and-out crook and this was his chance —

... And even though the saffron freezing message may come from the sunny ice caps of this world, O haunted fools we are, I add an appendage to a long loving letter I'd been writing to my mother for weeks:

Dont despair, Ma, I'll take care of you whenever you need me — just yell. ... I'm right there, swimming the river of hardships but I know how to swim — Dont ever think for one minute that you are left alone.

She is 3,000 miles away living in bondage to ill kin.

Desolation, desolation, how shall I ever repay thee?


I could go mad in this — O carryall menaya but the weel may track the rattle-burr, poniac the avoid devoidity runabout, minavoid the crail — Song of my all the vouring me the part de rail-ing carry all the pone — part you too may green and fly — welkin moon wrung salt upon the tides of come-on night, swing on the meadow shoulder, roll the boulder of Buddha over the pink partitioned west Pacific fog mow — O tiny tiny tiny human hope, O molded cracking thee mirror thee shook pa t n a watalaka — and more to go —



Every night at 8 the lookouts on all the different mountaintops in the Mount Baker National Forest have a bull session over their radios — I have my own Packmaster set and turn it on, and listen.

It's a big event in the loneliness —

"He asked if you was goin to sleep, Chuck."

"You know what he does Chuck when he goes out on patrol? — he finds a nice shady spot and just goes to sleep."

"Did you say Louise?"

"— I doant knaow —"

"— Well I only got three weeks to wait —"

"— right on 99 —"

"Say Ted?"


"How do you keep your oven hot for makin those, ah, muffins?"

"Oh just keep the fire hot —"

"They only got one road that ah zigzags all over creation —"

"Yeh well I hope so — I'll be there waitin anyway."


Excerpted from Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac. Copyright © 1993 Jan Kerouac. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


BOOK ONE Desolation Angels,
PART ONE Desolation in Solitude,
PART TWO Desolation in the World,
BOOK TWO Passing Through,
PART ONE Passing Through Mexico,
PART TWO Passing Through New York,
PART THREE Passing Through Tangiers, France and London,
PART FOUR Passing Through America Again,
About the Author,

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