Having only vvv narrowly missed out on the part of Maggie Cassidy in a school production adapted from the novel by our recondite gym instructor Mr Sip, to a girl of all people, and anyway the play was flawed, I haven't read this book yet and am only using it to hide behind on the bus.
As I've always been more interested in Jack Kerouac as an individual writer than the Beat Generation as a whole, I find his novels depicting early life in Lowell at least as interesting as those dealing with the later part of his life. There's the same rushed fevered energy and excitement in the way he writes. The same absorbing evocation of atmosphere. The 'real' Maggie Cassidy is Mary Carney a girl Kerouac knew intimately from his childhood (nothing to do with Carolyn Cassady other than a near-name match), but the novel is less about love than about the experience of adolescence. It's about growing up and discovering love rather than a big romantic 'true love' relationship. At first I found the book hard going because the character of Mary is quite shadowy we see only glimpses of her personality filtered through Jack's idolising perspective. She comes across as coquettish and boring not even particularly loving. The character of Pauline Cole her rival is much more interesting - funny, outrageous and flirtatious, it's hard to understand Jack's choice. Also you have to adjust to the stream-of-consciousness-like narrative which is like the flow of a river you have to jump into and then go with. But what made the novel really take off for me were the amazing descriptions of sporting events: the racing (track meets) in the first half of the book and the baseball in the second half. As soon as he begins writing about these the change is instantaneous. The book seems to leap into life with atmosphere, tension, drama and excitement. Kerouac seems to me to write about these public events and crowd scenes and the scenes with his mates much more vividly than the 'one and one' encounters fumbling with Maggie in the dark. Yes it is a long descriptive piece about life in Lowell, but it is also gripping because all the life and death of teenage angst is there as well, with its drama, parties and sporting triumphs and tragedies. His use of language is incredible, cramming every sentence with sensory perceptions, memories, hopes, fragments, thoughts and dreams. I found I had to keep consciously slowing myself down when reading in order to take it all in and stop myself being swept away. Maybe I'd recommend reading On the Road first as an initial introduction to Kerouac's work but after that Maggie Cassidy (which is not a long novel - fairly short, fairly accessible) is as good as any of the others as a follow up. If, like me, you're excited by the sport writing of Jack Kerouac try reading Vanity of Dulouz which deals largely with his life as a student footballer.
For a heady mix of indoor sprinting techniques, doomed love affairs and mammy's-boy sentimentality, check out Kerouac's sublime read-it-in-an-hour-and-a-half Maggie Cassidy. For a while when I was 17 I certainly believed that this was the greatest novel of all time. I still enjoy it too, more now for flicking through to the sad/lyrical passages about Kerouac's home town.
First of all Maggie Cassidy does not relate to the real Maggie Cassidy, Neal Cassady's wife, Kerouac has taken her name and attributed it to another character in this novel. I'm not exactly sure how autobiographical the novel is but it takes us through "Jack's" life before On the Road showing us what life in Lowell was like in 1939. The novel revolves around the protagonist's school days as an athlete and the frustration he has after falling in love with a woman called Maggie Cassidy. As a novel the plot is fairly uninvolving and remains so through-out the entire novel. The characters are unfamiliar as most of it is before Kerouac met Ginsberg, Burroughs and Neal so it holds little intrest for cross referencing with other Beat works or memoirs. The language however is pure Kerouac. He plays with language delivering rhymes and rythyms throughout the entire novel, much like On the Road and his other novels. The poetry of Kerouacs prose is obvious but the low key subject matter makes it a difficult read. He does show the problems and tribulations of growing up in Lowell. You get an appreciation of Jack's abilities as an athlete, something that doesn't come out in his other novels and the friendships he develops in Lowell but for all this it is not a gripping read as there is no real narritive drive, the book is a long descriptive piece of life in Lowell rather than a great narration. So if you've read all the other Kerouac novels and looking for something else Maggie Cassidy may be worthwhile- if you've managed to get through Visions of Cody then Maggie Cassidy will be quite straightforward. If you are new to Kerouac, start with On the Road, this book will not do much for you I'm afraid. For fans only after they've read the other good stuff.