The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Thomas Powers writes:

Kerouac loved to listen to Neal Cassady. His comings and goings, deeds and words, went beyond ordinary life in Kerouac’s view, and excited his audience like the late-night jazz riff of a genius saxophonist. That’s what Kerouac wanted to put into words – the racing of the heart and mind in an exalted state – and when he finally developed a way to do it Ginsberg called it ‘spontaneous bop prosody’. That is the short version of the big thing that Kerouac achieved as a writer. The long version is what Glassman/Johnson sets herself to explain in her second book about her long-dead lover, The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac. Publication of On the Road, in the fall of the year she met him, stopped him where he stood. Success was the problem – not the money but the fame. Between one day and the next he went from hopeful boy with manuscript to king of the Beat Generation. The success of On the Road saddled him with an open-ended promise too immense, too demanding for the hopeful boy to bear, and he didn’t.

(LRB 25 October 2012)

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