Monday, June 9, 2008


Enjoy the review of this book, located proudly on the shelves in the library of Hemingway's Lounge. I reviewed the tome YEARS ago, but the book it still a consistent seller at Amazon. Enjoy!

Like Hemingway, writer Jack Kerouac has ingrained himself into the very fabric of “The American Literary Experience. Where Hemingway was distinguished, Kerouac was cool. The pop culture’s guy’s guy.

A hip scribe who’d think nothing of hopping a freighter in the middle of nowhere and arrive at an even more remote destination and work as a farm hand earning just enough for a pack of Chesterfields, a bottle Dewars and, possibly, a copy of the newest Charlie Parker LP. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about conforming. The “nine-to-five” wasn’t in his vernacular.

That’s why it’s so surprising (albeit, downright quirky) to see “Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters,” a collection of postcards, letters and poems where Kerouac corresponded with girlfriend Joyce Johnson between 1957-58. Filled with the same literary scatting and spontaneous prose Kerouac was best known for, “Doors” starts in a Greenwich Village Howard Johnsons right before the publication of “On the Road” made him a household name. Broke and womanless, poet Allen Ginsberg set up a blind date between the 35 year-old Kerouac and 21 year-old aspiring writer (and beat groupie) Joyce Johnson.

Interspersed between letters, Glassman’s commentary reads almost like guilty-pleasure fiction in this supreme soap opera of star-crossed beat lovers.’ With no second thoughts,” Glassman writes, “I rushed downtown to meet him, who at 34 was one of the most compelling-looking men I’d ever seen, with black hair, blue eyes, and ruddy complexion. ...After an hour or so of conversation, when Jack asked whether he could come home with me, I answered with deceptive coolness, ‘If you wish.’ Young women were not supposed to have such adventures in 1957.” Kerouac stayed with her for three weeks and then took off on one of his soul-searching jaunts to Africa (specifically Tangiers), thus beginning the affair of letters that lasted about two years with the King of the Beats globe bopping from New York to such locales as Paris, San Francisco, Orlando and Mexico City.

The exchanges between them give the reader the almost voyeuristic opportunity to experience beatnik life in the fifties as well as catching a glimpse of the tender side of Kerouac that has yet to emerge:

” Got your fine letter - Yes, we’ll find you some place to stay in the city when you get here,” writes Kerouac from Frisco. “...I’ll meet you at the bus station (or some pre-arranged bar) and I’ll carry your bag and we’ll go find a room. ... You’ll love it here, it’s great... There are art museums, beaches, glorious parks, those Chinese restaurants, wharves, waterfront, all kinds of interesting scenes and people , lotsa jazz, friends to make. Just ignore me, my gloom, unless I feel better when you get here. As ever. - Jack.”
Yet at times, the roguish charm that was all too much the real Kerouac intrinsically breaks through and the reader can almost hear the young Johnson cringe as she reads her boyfriend’s frank letters:
“Look forward to seeing you,” Kerouac writes from Tangiers, “lonely here, don’t like whores anyway and no girls speak English.” Ouch. To that all Johnson says, “It was as if he forgotten for a moment whom he was writing to. But I decided not to probe into the question whether or not Jack was seeing other women - a policy I would later try to stick with much greater difficulty.”
As Kerouac struggles with a bewildering fame, readers will find the work an remarkable portrait as he struggles to cope with his public, dodge critical attacks against his subsequent works and teeter totter his relationship with the only woman who might have truly understood him.

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