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Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats
by Barry Miles
ISBN 080506043X / 9780805060430 / 0-8050-6043-X
Publisher Henry Holt and Co.
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Barry Miles, noted for Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, also wrote biographies of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. This hatchet job on Kerouac lacks what makes his McCartney book great--total access to his subject--and it won't replace the more eloquent bios Kerouac and Memory Babe. But it is enriched by Miles's interviews with those in a position to debunk the legend. Was Kerouac a sweet saint, as his burgeoning congregation believes? "He cared more for his cat than for his own daughter," writes Miles, and the rich Kerouac did let his kid become a 13-year-old junkie prostitute. Was he a deep Buddhist? Buddhist poet Philip Whalen says Jack didn't quite get it. Jack couldn't drive, either--it was the idea he liked. Did he write On the Road in a burst of unedited inspiration on a 120-foot roll of paper? No, he revised the text. The last four feet of the scroll were chewed up by the dog belonging to Lucien Carr (the father of Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist), but the dog may have actually accomplished some helpful editing, as did Malcolm Cowley. The book's best line (about "the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk") was composed months later.
Kerouac was often monstrous, even before he became a KKK cross-burning kook locked in a bizarre relationship with his bigoted, alcoholic mother. For what's good about Kerouac, consult more sympathetic scholars. The best of him is in his own books. --Tim Appelo [via]