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on 11 November 2000
I had already read several books about Jack Kerouac and his friends, and I did not feel that this one differed very much from the others. It was inevitibly quite a good read, since the story is an interesting one, but there were few new insights. Perhaps the biggest difference was that this author was a little harder on his subject, admitting that in some ways he was not a particularly admirable character. Allen Ginsberg probably emerges with most credit in this version, perhaps not surprisingly since he was apparently a friend of the author. He made a couple of strange omissions: he did not even mention the death of Neal Cassady, which was surely one of the final nails in the coffin of a man who was already effectively giving up on life, and he presented one genuinely new and interesting fact, also about Neal Cassady, which was not mentioned in any other book I'd read, but did not follow it up at all, so that I was left thinking, "Why tell us this juicy secret if you don't want us to know about it?" However, there were some interesting attempts to understand what might have been behind Kerouac's behaviour, and it would probably make a good first book for someone who had not previously read anything about this group of writers.
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on 9 July 1999
This is an enormously detailed book, offering great insights into one of the most influential writers of his era. There are several biographies of Kerouac available, but what makes this one so appealing is that is, to my mind, truer to life than the others.
Miles is not afraid to shy away from what he views as "the truth" about Kerouac, and the invective he portrays towards Kerouac's home-town at having a celebration of the life of a man who had so many repulsive aspects to his life is powerful indeed.
There are occasions when the desire to ensure that the reader is not left in any doubt as to what Miles thinks of Kerouac is such that Miles over-steps the mark and offers his own liberal interpretation on events rather than stating facts; but there is an appreciation for the work that Kerouac did. This is no hatchet-job of a biograpy, and the pleasure Miles gained from some of the poetry and novels of Kerouac goes a long way to offset the displeasure he feels towards the Kerouac estate and Kerouac's actions ...
The interpretation of the relationship Kerouac had with his mother is interesting, but the distinctly Freudian tone that Miles adopts is undoubtedly overplayed and is presented at almost every description of his Mother. There are other schools of psycho-analysis than the Freudian! Analysis of their relationship (and indeed the relationship Kerouac had with his Father) is useful and revealing but not to the extent Miles thinks. The same could be said about the death of Kerouac's brother Cody which is given a similar ('though not Freudian) analysis and this too offers insights into Kerouac's character.
I would recommend this book. The research that has gone into this is at times staggering and the reader genuinely feels that they get to know Kerouac. Interviews, newspaper clippings, reports, television and any other media form have all been used, and used well.
Perhaps Miles' tone can be summed up by the tone adopted at Kerouac's death. Although he died having lost many of his friends through his behaviour, we feel no sadness at his demise. His success brought no happiness for him.
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on 6 June 1999
This book from Barry Miles is undoubtedly exceptionally well researched and documented, often surprising the reader with some in-depth knowledge (for example much space is devoted to the origin of the Kerouac name) or a revealing fragment of conversation. And this is very much to Miles' advantage.
As with good biographies, there is little point in presenting the bare bones of a life-story without some thrust or central argument; and again to Miles' credit the tenet is not so much "Let me explain the brilliance of Kerouac and why he's so popular", but rather "Let me explain how Kerouac *should* be viewed". Miles is not flattering. He calls Kerouac 'callous' and claims (with much justification) that he was vile towards his friends, abusing their trust, and the denial of the existence of his own daughter was the epitome of this spiteful attitude.
Whether a desire to portray Kerouac in this way - which Miles certainly considers to be accurate, and indeed he presents fairly solid, conclusive evidence to back his theses up - meant that Miles presents only one view of Kerouac is a moot point. I would tend to think not - but as ever there is more than 1 side to the argument, and I'm sure Allen Ginsberg (one of Kerouac's closest friends and supporters) would disagree with Miles in several parts.
The proposition that Kerouac suffered from the "Oedipus complex" is given prime place throughout the book, and although one cannot deny an unusual relationship between Jack and his Mother, viewing their relationship from an exclusively Freudian perspective is unhelpful and some of the conversations between the two - presented as facts - seem to me to have been described with a good dash of artistic license. Miles does strike a good balance, however, between presenting his own opinions as fact and presenting alternative perspectives.
There can be little doubt in my mind that Miles has a fondness for Kerouac and although Miles admits that Kerouac's books "will never be classics", their attraction for thousands of readers across the world is unmistakable and this attraction is more than acknowledged by this book; and for that reason, comes well recommended for all Kerouac lovers.
Just read it with an open mind!
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on 6 November 2009
This is the best biography I have read on Kerouac. Barry Miles is an obvious fan and his love of his subject comes through. He gives us a warts and all profile, and is not at all afraid to show the many flaws and failings of Jack Kerouac.
I do however think that Barry Miles should have just reported the findings of his research without adding his own pseudo psychological analysis of his subject. But none the less a well written and well researched book and highly readable. Recommended.
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on 11 February 2000
This is very well written, well researched book on Kerouac. The author does a very good job of avoiding hero worship - Mr. Miles is quite critical of Kerouac and his human flaws. He does not try to be an apologist for Kerouac.I do have two criticisms, however: Although there is probably no way to avoid amateur Freudian analysis of Kerouac - he did after all live with his mother essentially his entire life - it seems that such analyses have become too common in biographies. I have one other criticism: nowhere does Miles address the question of whether any of Kerouac's friends tried to get him into treatment for the severe alchoholism that eventually killed him before he turned 50. I can't imagine that with a circle of friends this large, someone somewhere did not try to get him into rehab. If not, then that in itself could be a telling fact.
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on 28 December 2014
I read this as a follow-up to Miles' bio of Allan Ginsberg, so I knew much of the Kerouac biography as it applies generally to the Beats, and knew that fundamentally Kerouac was not Mr. Nice. It's to Miles' great credit that he doesn't shy away from this. The bizarre relationship with his mother is covered; my only niggle is that we get a bit too much psychology, which Miles admits is "amateur", on this relationship. He also notes something which struck me when I read "On The Road", which is that by the time the book was published, the America Kerouac describes and celebrates, that of the immediate post-war period, was already gone. Kerouac had little interest in, or support for, the world of the late fifties and (especially) sixties. He spent his last years as a reactionary drunk, finally succeeding in drinking himself death at 47; perhaps, as Miles hints, he always was a reactionary drunk, a spoiled mummy's boy who got lucky.
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on 29 August 2014
Interesting character.
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