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Showing 1-10 of 16 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 35 reviews
on October 21, 2012
I haven't read all of the Kerouac biographies, but Joyce Johnson's "The Voice is All" is by far the best of the half dozen or so I have read. In fact, it's one of the best books I've read on any subject, and I look forward to reading it again.

Johnson has three great advantages as a biographer: she knew her subject intimately, she's unusually intelligent, and she can write.

Paul Maher's Amazon customer review is titled "Recycled from older biographies and
paraphrased from Kerouac's archive." The first statement is untrue and the second is misleading.

Not only did Johnson have access to the treasure trove of journals, letters, and other material that has finally found its way to the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library; but unlike most earlier biographers, she has sensed the importance of Kerouac's French Canadianness and has explored his ethnicity in a way that helps to illuminate the many paradoxes of this complex personality. As a writer of no mean talents herself, Joyce Johnson is well qualified to trace the development of Kerouac's style. The result is the story not just of a man coming of age, but of a writer finding his voice. Far from being "recycled from older biographies," her book is unique in its approach and adds greatly to our understanding of this much maligned and underrated writer.

As for Johnson's book being "paraphrased from Kerouac's archive"-because of the limitations placed on Kerouac's papers by his literary executor, quoting directly from this material is not an option: paraphrasing is all anyone can do. Having come up against this problem myself in writing my Kerouac memoir, "The Awakener," I discovered that there is actually a positive side to the ban on quoting, in that doing so at any length interrupts the author's voice and makes for a less readable text. The implication that Johnson has added nothing new to what she has studied so scrupulously is mean-spirited and inaccurate.

My only problem with "The Voice is All" is that it ends too soon! Not that I wanted Johnson to go into Kerouac's sad decline; her decision to end the book in 1951, when he has found the voice in which he will write his greatest works, was the right one, and sets her book apart from all the rest. I guess I wanted more of a celebration of that lonely victory.

But in fact, "The Voice is All" is that celebration. In it Kerouac's development as an artist is given the respect it deserves and is placed firmly within the cultural context of the times and places in which he was born, grew up, and lived. This book is a milestone in the journey of Kerouac's afterlife. Johnson brings Kerouac into the pantheon of literature where he belongs: with Melville, Twain, Whitman, and yes-even with Proust, that other great French rememberer. The French piece of the puzzle is only one of the major insights of this beautifully researched and crafted book.
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on July 9, 2013
This is certainly not the most complete biography of Kerouac, but if you are interested first and foremost in his writing and formative years then this is the best book available to date. Joyce Johnson is not only a respected writer in her own right, and was a writer when she met Kerouac, but she understands Kerouac's influences and development. Along with Dennis McNally's "Desolate Angel" and Gerald Nicosia's "Memory Babe", this is the book to read if you want to understand Kerouac and philosophy of art. Though it has been criticized for its lack of quotes from Kerouac's papers, something Johnson was unable to do because of the rules of the Kerouac Estate, Johnson's credibility and her notes more than make up for what surely would have made this book even better. It is not bogged down in the detail of Nicosia and with a plethora of new information since McNally's publication, this is nothing short of a godsend for Kerouac fans. Highly enjoyable and to the point, it is highly recommended!
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on February 28, 2017
Great insight by Joyce of rarely seen moments with a woman with great insight.
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on June 11, 2014
Johnson's thesis regarding Kerouac's "duality" and French-Canadian heritage is interesting.
Her attention to his writing- and his drive to write- is what sets the book apart from other Kerouac bios.
Worth reading even if you've read all the others.
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on May 29, 2015
This is a very fascinating read. A glimpse into the writing process of one of the true visionaries of literature. Both inspiring and heartbreaking. A must read for any fan of Jack`s.
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on April 19, 2016
Loved it!
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on September 26, 2013
This biography is so well written by an author who actually lived with Jack Kerouac. You can feel his influence in her writing. This biography is a must to read in order to understand and appreciate Kerouac's 'stream of conscious' writing style. It also gives insight as to what was happening in America during and after WWII and how a group of writers influenced and changed the thinking of future generations. Read this biography before and after reading Kerouac's best selling book ON THE ROAD. It will help you to understand the cast of characters and the crazy happenings that Kerouac writes about. Joyce Johnson's book will hold your attention and this book is a must read if you are a fan of Jack Kerouac.
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on May 22, 2014
I've read a lot of Kerouac's work and this was a wonderful insight into the tumultuous life of a great writer.
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VINE VOICEon December 1, 2012
Joyce Johnson's "The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac" (2012)offers a sympathetic internalized portrayal of Kerouac, the divisions in his personality, and his calling as a writer. Johnson has published three novels, and other works of nonfiction, including the memoir discussed below.

Johnson's life intertwined with Kerouac's. Joyce Glassman (b. 1935) had a relationship with Kerouac which began in 1957, months before the publication of "On the Road", and ended abrubtly in 1959. In 1983, nearly 25 after the relationship ended, Johnson wrote an eloquent reflective memoir, "Minor Characters" about her own early life as it interconnected with Kerouac's and other people in his circle. Minor Characters Written nearly thirty years later, in 2012, Johnson's biography covers Kerouac's (1922 -- 1969) early life through 1951. By 1951, Kerouac had published one novel, "The Town and the City" (1950). He had written "On the Road", but the book would not be published until 1957, when Kerouac and Johnson were in their relationship. Thus, Johnson writes of Kerouac during over 40 years after her relationship with him ended, and her book covers her subject's life before she knew him. She writes about Kerouac with obvious affection and love but with the detachment and reflection that comes with time. In the Introduction, Johnson comments on the passage of time as it influenced her understanding of herself and of Kerouac.

"If I had written this biography in my fifties, when there was so much less reliable information available, mistaken assumptions would undoubtedly have led me down some wrong paths. If I had attempted to write about Jack in my twenties, when my memories of my own relationship with him between 1957 and 1958 were still fresh, I would not have had the objectivity I brought to my memoir, Minor Characters, when I began it in 1981."

As Johnson states, there are many approaches to writing about Kerouac, or any literary figure. Her book draws heavily of Kerouac's papers and on those of his friends and emphasizes what Johnson calls "his most important relationship -- the one he had with his work." Her book portrays a gifted, complex, highly troubled individual who found his calling as a writer early in life and pursued it with intensity. She portrays the private Kerouac, the person no one ever saw, "the man alone in a room writing".

Johnson is most interested in describing Kerouac's long, painstaking development as a writer. Thus she describes the three years of intense, isolated effort Kerouac spent writing his first published novel, "The Town and the City." Then, legend has it that Kerouac's most famous book, his second novel "On the Road" was written on a typed scroll in a matter of weeks. But as Johnson shows, the writing of the book on the typescroll obscures the many failed starts and revisions over several years that proceeded and helped form the book in its final version. Johnson finds that Kerouac's writing finds "its fullest expression, in "Visions of Cody" the sequel to "On the Road" that he began shortly after its completion. She writes: "With 'Visions of Cody', Jack would make his own singular contribution to the great stream-of-consciousness experiments of twentieth-century literature."

Johnson focuses on Kerouac's ambivalences and divided nature which she calls "dualities". She pays great attention to the French-Canadian community in Quebec. Many French-Canadians moved to New England in search of better lives, including Kerouac's parents. His early life in Lowell, Massachussetts was embedded in French-Canadian culture, so much so that Johnson describes Kerouac as an American outsider, a status critical towards understanding his work. Johnson also describes a Kerouac split from childhood between his intellectual, reclusive nature on the one hand and his frenetic need for acceptance and companionship on the other hand. Some of this is shown by his prowess at football and sports as a young man. His relationship to his friends and to women also show Kerouac's need to be loved and accepted. Kerouac's French-Canadian background and the conflicting pulls in his character are emphasized throughout as Johnson explores his writing. Johnson also discusses insightfully the importance to Kerouac of the death of his older brother Gerard, nine, when Kerouac was four, and the domineering influence of Kerouac's mother throughout his life.

The book is filled with detail about Kerouac's early life in Lowell, his year at Horace Mann, his attendance at Columbia, his service in the merchant marine, his wanderings, serious brushes with the law, and increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs. Johnson emphasizes his childhood friends, his many relationships with women, most of which were passing and sad, and his two wives. The book draws with a novelistic eye a portrayal of New York City in the post - WW II years and of the people that became part of Kerouac's circle, including Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes. Johnson discounts the importance of the "Beat" movement or the role imputed to Kerouac as "King of the Beats." The movement such as it was has played out before Kerouac became notorious. In any event, Kerouac's writings remain alive and of importance while the Beat movement has long since faded.

Johnson's painstaking exposition of Kerouac's writing, including his letters, drafts, and manuscripts constitute the most insightful portion of her portrayal of Kerouac. She describes the many early versions of works such as "On the Road", "The Town and the City" and "Dr. Sax" together with manuscripts, some of which, such as "The Sea is my Brother" have been published. Other manuscripts, including a work Kerouac began in French, remain largely unknown. The discussion of the published books and of Kerouac's drafts and writing gave me a valuable perspective on his work. Johnson also describes well Kerouac's extensive reading, and the changes in the writers and the styles that came to influence him over time.

There may be small factual or chronological errors in this biography, but Johnson draws Kerouac from the inside. Her book increased my understanding of a writer I have thought about for many years. Johnson portrays a flawed individual's devotion to his art and the toll this devotion exacted.

Robin Friedman
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on February 3, 2015
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