What Happened Later

Taking its title from Kerouac himself—”What Happened Later” was the title of his proposed sequel to On The Road—this novel tells the story of what happened after the fame generated by Kerouac’s famous book and what happened next in the life of a young man infatuated with the legendary author. Interweaving the story of one author’s slow decline with one boy’s literary coming of age, “What Happened Later” explores the ever-shifting dualities of myth and reality, loss and hope, innocence and experience, endings and beginnings.

  • The Ottawa Citizen lists What Happened Later on their “required reading” list.
  • Finalist for the Trillium Book Award
  • A Quill and Quire Top 100 Book of 2007
  • An Ottawa Citizen Top Ten Book of 2007

Praise for What Happened Later

[A] highly pleasing synthesis of characters, places and times that at first glance have nothing to do with one another, but which are ultimately entwined on the levels of spirit, poetry and self-exploration. It takes a few chapters to get used to the rhythm of this curiously constructed book, but its unorthodox architecture is precisely what’s appealing about it. The stories converge on each other gradually, like railroad tracks vanishing in the distance. Robertson’s prose is effortless. His chapters on Kerouac, comprising half the book, are so vivid that one easily imagines the sights, sounds and smells of that northbound car in 1967, containing a moribund Jack and his hung-over friend, Joe Chaput, who often wished he was somewhere else, but who loved Kerouac too much to abandon him. Best of all, the congenital empty ache in the heart that makes writers writers is well captured in this marvellously schizophrenic novel, which, like all good novels, lingers in the mind long after it’s been put down.

—Globe & Mail

If Robertson . . . was wishing that he, too, could attain mastery “of my craft, of the form, of my mind,” then the accomplishment so obvious here is all the reassurance he, or anyone else, should ever need.
—The Toronto Star

[A] transfixing, brave and ultimately moving work that succeeds despite the significant hurdles it sets in its own path. . . What Happened Later is an accomplished, compelling work that rings true in every sense of the word, with sharp characterization and acute insight.

—National Post

Robertson’s achievement here is to paint a sympathetic portrait without whitewashing. Through Robertson, we gain insight into the deeply flawed man behind the famous writer who set the life-induced, pulsating rhythm that defined the Beat Generation. Unfolding 15 years later, the coming-of-age story is about a working-class Chatham, Ont., teenager named Ray Robertson who falls under the spell of Jim Morrison and then learns through a paperback biography that the rock legend was influenced by Kerouac. Only Robertson knows for sure how much of What Happened Later is autobiography. For readers, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the masterful way Robertson recalls in such loving detail life in small-town Ontario in the 1970s. His account is so vivid it’s like looking at a photo album or a pictorial history. Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid What Happened Later is that it does On the Road proud.

—Kitchener-Waterloo Record/Guelph Mercury

What Happened Later is a tour de force.

—Halifax Chronicle Herald

A master of dialogue, Robertson’s fallen king of the beats is fluid, real and written from a place of sincere love, not idolatry. . . Perhaps Robertson’s to date.

—Eye Weekly

In alternating chapters, Robertson magically blends a fictional version of himself growing up with the story of a post-On The Road Jack Kerouac, by this time a drunken sponge on a freefall trip to the grave. In this, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s so-called bible, it’s perhaps treasonous to admit I haven’t read On The Road, but Robertson’s great book doesn’t require it.
—The Ottawa Citizen

It was a stray remark from the lips of the dissipated rock god Jim Morrison that put into young Robertson’s mind the idea of reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Robertson’s own book takes its title from what would have been Kerouac’s last project. With this gesture, Robertson makes a profound and energetically solacing point, a point that in some moods a person might even call “spiritual”, if the word did not imply pallor and acquiescence-features of neither Robertson’s syntax nor his subject matter. The aim of Robertson’s narrative is alternately to trace his own coming of age in Chatham, Ontario (a place in which it was impossible to obtain a copy of On the Road), and to recount Kerouac’s decline, manifest in a late visit to Quebec, the province from which his Massachusetts family stemmed. As Robertson’s story develops, it reveals that growth and decline are not opposites, and that, moreover, in some real sense (such is the success of this work), Kerouac is not dead, not ruined, not exactly the reactionary, bigoted wreck of pathetic legend. Instead, with all his flaws, he still lives in Robertson’s prose and in Robertson’s reader. As for irony-Robertson revels in it, but with strange freedom from spite. His irony is sometimes furious; it is not petty. Robertson recounts, for example, the irony of Jim Morrison’s worshipping Jack Kerouac: Kerouac despised what Morrison and his band stood for. And what Morrison and Kerouac would have made of Robertson is anybody’s guess. It would depend, perhaps, on the phase of life in which one chose to consult them. But if there is an afterlife, and if it implies (as it surely ought to) a broadening of perspective, both men should be gratified. Robertson compounds honesty with love to make them memorable. Robertson’s writing . . . is excellent in several respects. His phrasing is often striking [and] Robertson shows a great tactical sense of drama and humour. Robertson also has a light touch with symbolism. At the heart OF Robertson’s book . . . is an intensely moving insight: one man’s sad end can be another man’s beginning. . . Robertson’s writing is excellent.

—Books in Canada