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Midwest Book Review - riveting bio, skillfully written
on October 14, 2003
Chronologically, from birth to death, author Nicosia tells Kerouac's life story with unflinching honesty and utmost respect. Blessed with a sharp memory, very early on Jack's childhood friends nicknamed him "Memory Babe" and that is where the book got its name. Packed with fascinating details and exquisitely written, this book needs to be discovered by a younger generation of readers.
Many of us alive today have heard of Jack Kerouac but I doubt few know the details of his tragic life. That he remains the voice of a generation and a literary icon goes without saying. Kerouac was a physically beautiful but emotionally flawed man with a tormented spirit. He spent his life as man and writer trying to prove that "the past is the root of the future, and that a man cannot live without the continuity of both." Jack remembered everything he heard, as if words were sacred and his mind was a sponge. Despite his many flaws, he always paid "exquisite attention to the sound of language."
Even as he mapped new territory as a writer, Kerouac was adrift as a man. As the first spokesman for the "beat" generation, he perfected that voice with guilt, self-doubt, and self-punishment. This biography clearly states Jack's definition of "beat": "beat down, beat up, all-tired-out." Still, his words were always carefully chosen. Word by word, Kerouac carefully created phrases to express time, place, emotion, and man's senses, communicating deep meaning. His writing was full of symbolism and visions, allegory and veiled reality, profanity and parody, as he groped his way with prose towards his own death. For his time, Kerouac's verbal ingenuity was unsurpassed.
Personally, his charismatic male persona disguised a quicksilver child, mischievous and unpredictable. As he aged, Jack became a brooding, paranoid, hard drinking drug user, insecure in his sexuality and prone to alcoholic blackouts. As addiction wrecked his health, his light slowly drowned out and he became a lonely and despairing figure. But for decades in between youth and death, this trusting, shy, socially awkward man became a literary legend.
Jack Kerouac rubbed shoulders with Jackson Pollock, Allen Ginsberg, and every jazz great of his day. He was published by several of the major New York publishing houses. His prose and poetry were unprecedented and have not been successfully imitated since. He died young, never fully realizing the effect of his mind and his work on subsequent generations.
Gerald Nicosia has penned THE definitive biography of Kerouac. From letters, journals, tapes, interviews, and Jack Kerouac's books themselves - all faithfully recorded in a detailed bibliography - the author has skillfully dissected the life of the "beat" generation's strongest voice. The result is both scholarly and deeply personal, touching and disturbing. It should be required reading in every college and university, and a must have book for any reader curious about Kerouac and his time.