Academic journal article American Studies

THE VOICE IS ALL: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Academic journal article American Studies

THE VOICE IS ALL: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Article excerpt

THE VOICE IS ALL: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac. By Joyce Johnson. New York: Viking. 2012.

In Joyce Johnson's insightful 1999 biography, Minor Characters, we are introduced to Jack Kerouac asa dynamic and pathetic man, bursting with words and ideas, trying to balance living by his ideals with spectral and real familial responsibilities. It's a beautiful recounting of Kerouac in all of his complexity-neither a hagiography nor bitter tell-all, her memoir panoramically captures Kerouac at a moment when he stares deer-eyed at the approaching fame that would soon envelop him. In Johnson's biography, The Voice is All, the younger Kerouac is in focus, from his birth in Lowell, Massachusetts, to around 1951, years before the publication of On The Road. Although it does not break new ground, it is a well-written reminder of the chaos and intensity of Kerouac's and the other Beats' lives-"the beautiful angels" were a hard-living bunch whose egotistical search for "truth," painstakingly recorded in their own works, is still surprisingly fresh when retold by Johnson. Her intimate knowledge of Kerouac and his life, along with her desire to protect him from his legions of critics, lends a continual sharpness to her writing as her crisp sentences illuminate without being showy.

While there are stronger biographies of Kerouac-Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe is the most authoritative-Johnson's focus on Kerouac's French Canadian childhood, which she persuasively (although not conclusively) pinpoints as the source for his linguistic experimentation, is its most welcome addition. …

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