They met in early 1957, eight months before the publication of On the Road
made Jack Kerouac the most famous young writer in America. Some of the bitterest, saddest letters Kerouac wrote to his 21-year-old lover, Joyce Glassman, reveal the personal cost of the hysterical media attention that followed. Yet their early correspondence shows a side of Kerouac not always evident in his fiction: tender, spiritual, and supportive of Glassman's efforts to write her first novel. Now known as Joyce Johnson, she supplements the text of their epistles with commentary whose sensitive, rueful tone will be familiar to readers of her memoir, Minor Characters
. The loving but independent air she assumed in her letters, Johnson notes, came from painful rewriting to eliminate all hints of hurt or need; as he wandered in and out of her life, Kerouac kept reminding her he didn't want to be tied down, even as he urged her to come visit whatever city he'd alighted in. Spiced with marvelously evocative period slang like dig
, and references to friends such as Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, this poignant epistolary record of a 22-month love affair also brings to life an exciting moment in American cultural history, when the Beat writers gave "powerful, irresistible voices to subversive longings." --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
In a hip, literate correspondence marked by high diction and '50s slang, 21-year-old Johnson (born Glassman) and 35-year-old Kerouac chart the flowering of the Beats and their complicated love affair. An initial matchmaking move by Allen Ginsberg led to Johnson's and Kerouac's first meeting in Greenwich Village, followed by 22 months of romance, withdrawal and, eventually, friendship. Through her understated commentary and narrative links, NBCC-Award winner Johnson (Minor Characters) provides tender insight into Kerouac's troubles, particularly his unease at becoming the Beat spokesman with the 1957 publication of On the Road and his "convoluted attachment" to his mother, Memere, which made it impossible for him to sustain relationships with other women. Johnson's presence throughout makes the story hers--that of a sheltered Barnard grad who considered writing "an illicit and transgressive act" and who must have found in Kerouac a kindred soul. Yet it was her desire for a more lasting union than Kerouac would give that led to their breakup: "'You're nothing but a big bag of wind," she told a dallying Kerouac, and left. Although the Kerouac romance dominates the text, the author's brief description of her happy marriage to James Johnson, which ended with his death in a motorcycle accident, puts the affair in perspective and shows readers a greater reason for the sadness that suffuses the book. First serial to Vanity Fair; 3-city author tour. (June)
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