The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac Paperback – 27 Aug 2013
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An intense and wonderful exploration into the mind of Jack Kerouac, the hard territory and brutal experiences that produced him and his own fierce determination to become a writer .Johnson succeeds in blowing apart many of the stereotypes of Kerouac as an author and as a man. Dylan Foley, Chicago Tribune
Spectacular definitely the Kerouac book for our time traces the birth of a literary genius and dispels many of the Kerouac myths: that he wrote from memory, not the imagination, and that he wrote spontaneously and without revising Johnson knows how to create suspense and weave the complex lives of her characters into a narrative that rumbles along her own voice is eloquent, her prose clear and crisp. Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle
A major new biography that traces the gradual emergence of the voice that came to define Kerouac s distinctive style of autobiographical fiction Johnson redirects our focus to Kerouac s writing an aspect that has been overshadowed by his legend. Lauren Du Graf, The Daily Beast
Johnson has wisely chosen to emphasize the part of Kerouac s life all but lost in the Kerouac legend: Behind the coast-to-coast craziness, the drug- and booze-inspired flights of mysticism, the Benzedrine-fueled writing sprees, a very serious writer was at work. Bill Marvel, The Dallas Morning News
[A] remarkable new biography the final section of this book take on the urgency of a thriller reaching its climax.So closely does Johnson track Kerouac s evolution as a writer that one senses a breakthrough right around the corner. John Freeman, Barnes and Noble review
In The Voice is All, Johnson brilliantly and intimately gets beyond the Kerouac legend to the solitary soul of the man...she has infused Kerouac s work with excitement, struggle, desperation, and love. Royal Young, Interviewmagazine.com
Johnson, an award-winning memoirist in her own right, draws from her relationship with Kerouac, as well as Kerouac s private papers, for an unromanticized (but deeply personal) take on a man whose conflicted, roving essence continues to resonate. Megan O Grady, vogue.com
A magnificent bildungsroman biography Johnson has poured herself into the book in the way artists to works of the imagination more rewarding than Johnson s inside storytelling are her insights into Kerouac s ambitions as a writer. Mindy Aloff, The Virginia Quarterly Review
Johnson proves herself to be a rigorous, knowledgeable, and penetrating biographer in this engrossing portrait of Kerouac as a divided soul she offers exceptionally lucid coverage of his depression, alcoholism, and every significant relationship in his surging life most valuable is Johnson s discerning analysis of what Kerouac hoped to achieve in his by-turns exalted and anguished transmutation of experience into literature. Donna Seaman, ALA Booklist
Johnson brings an outsider s perspective to this insightful study of how Kerouac found his voice as a writer [she] excels in her colorful, candid assessment of the evolution of [Kerouac s] voice. Publishers Weekly
A triumph of scholarship an exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer [Johnson] turns a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac s evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer. Kirkus Reviews
Johnson breaks new ground in this well-written account of Kerouac s early life the portrait of Kerouac that emerges is one of a complicated individual, full of contradictions, who, above all else, was dedicated to his art essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Kerouac s life and work. Library Journal
About the Author
Joyce Johnson is the author of eight books, including the award-winning memoir Minor Characters, Missing Men, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957 1958 (with Jack Kerouac). She lives in New York City."
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Johnson's life intertwined with Kerouac's. Joyce Glassman (b. 1935) had a relationship with Kerouac which began in 1957, months before the publication of "On the Road", and ended abrubtly in 1959. In 1983, nearly 25 after the relationship ended, Johnson wrote an eloquent reflective memoir, "Minor Characters" about her own early life as it interconnected with Kerouac's and other people in his circle. Written nearly thirty years later, in 2012, Johnson's biography covers Kerouac's (1922 -- 1969) early life through 1951. By 1951, Kerouac had published one novel, "The Town and the City" (1950). He had written "On the Road", but the book would not be published until 1957, when Kerouac and Johnson were in their relationship. Thus, Johnson writes of Kerouac during over 40 years after her relationship with him ended, and her book covers her subject's life before she knew him. She writes about Kerouac with obvious affection and love but with the detachment and reflection that comes with time. In the Introduction, Johnson comments on the passage of time as it influenced her understanding of herself and of Kerouac.
"If I had written this biography in my fifties, when there was so much less reliable information available, mistaken assumptions would undoubtedly have led me down some wrong paths. If I had attempted to write about Jack in my twenties, when my memories of my own relationship with him between 1957 and 1958 were still fresh, I would not have had the objectivity I brought to my memoir, Minor Characters, when I began it in 1981."
As Johnson states, there are many approaches to writing about Kerouac, or any literary figure. Her book draws heavily of Kerouac's papers and on those of his friends and emphasizes what Johnson calls "his most important relationship -- the one he had with his work." Her book portrays a gifted, complex, highly troubled individual who found his calling as a writer early in life and pursued it with intensity. She portrays the private Kerouac, the person no one ever saw, "the man alone in a room writing".
Johnson is most interested in describing Kerouac's long, painstaking development as a writer. Thus she describes the three years of intense, isolated effort Kerouac spent writing his first published novel, "The Town and the City." Then, legend has it that Kerouac's most famous book, his second novel "On the Road" was written on a typed scroll in a matter of weeks. But as Johnson shows, the writing of the book on the typescroll obscures the many failed starts and revisions over several years that proceeded and helped form the book in its final version. Johnson finds that Kerouac's writing finds "its fullest expression, in "Visions of Cody" the sequel to "On the Road" that he began shortly after its completion. She writes: "With 'Visions of Cody', Jack would make his own singular contribution to the great stream-of-consciousness experiments of twentieth-century literature."
Johnson focuses on Kerouac's ambivalences and divided nature which she calls "dualities". She pays great attention to the French-Canadian community in Quebec. Many French-Canadians moved to New England in search of better lives, including Kerouac's parents. His early life in Lowell, Massachussetts was embedded in French-Canadian culture, so much so that Johnson describes Kerouac as an American outsider, a status critical towards understanding his work. Johnson also describes a Kerouac split from childhood between his intellectual, reclusive nature on the one hand and his frenetic need for acceptance and companionship on the other hand. Some of this is shown by his prowess at football and sports as a young man. His relationship to his friends and to women also show Kerouac's need to be loved and accepted. Kerouac's French-Canadian background and the conflicting pulls in his character are emphasized throughout as Johnson explores his writing. Johnson also discusses insightfully the importance to Kerouac of the death of his older brother Gerard, nine, when Kerouac was four, and the domineering influence of Kerouac's mother throughout his life.
The book is filled with detail about Kerouac's early life in Lowell, his year at Horace Mann, his attendance at Columbia, his service in the merchant marine, his wanderings, serious brushes with the law, and increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs. Johnson emphasizes his childhood friends, his many relationships with women, most of which were passing and sad, and his two wives. The book draws with a novelistic eye a portrayal of New York City in the post - WW II years and of the people that became part of Kerouac's circle, including Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes. Johnson discounts the importance of the "Beat" movement or the role imputed to Kerouac as "King of the Beats." The movement such as it was has played out before Kerouac became notorious. In any event, Kerouac's writings remain alive and of importance while the Beat movement has long since faded.
Johnson's painstaking exposition of Kerouac's writing, including his letters, drafts, and manuscripts constitute the most insightful portion of her portrayal of Kerouac. She describes the many early versions of works such as "On the Road", "The Town and the City" and "Dr. Sax" together with manuscripts, some of which, such as "The Sea is my Brother" have been published. Other manuscripts, including a work Kerouac began in French, remain largely unknown. The discussion of the published books and of Kerouac's drafts and writing gave me a valuable perspective on his work. Johnson also describes well Kerouac's extensive reading, and the changes in the writers and the styles that came to influence him over time.
There may be small factual or chronological errors in this biography, but Johnson draws Kerouac from the inside. Her book increased my understanding of a writer I have thought about for many years. Johnson portrays a flawed individual's devotion to his art and the toll this devotion exacted.
But I did read about half of "On The Road" before dropping it out of boredom.
Square guys back in the 50's.
I was a 60's hippie.
this is a book written by a master who knows her subject intiamtely and has researched and taken personal memories and written them in a beautiful prose that neither consumes the text nor hinders the text. in her earlier memoir she tried to write a book about mr kerouac, now she has written mr kerouac with the restriant and maturity that can only come from a master. a seemingly sensitive, gentle lady seems to be the one who understands/understood mr kerouac (maybe only in hindsight in places) which is fitting due to his dependence of women to understand him.
one would not have to go far out on a limb to claim that she is the greatest living female writer (if one concerns one's self with the gender divide given to literature), possibly the greatest living biographer
so take your prosaic biographies of mr kerouac and put them back on the shelf. this is 'thee' definitive kerouac, maybe not the romantic vision that you have created, o no, he was, in real life, far beyond such limitations
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