I love reading about Kerouac and The Beat Generation, whether that comes in the form of the various novels they produced, movements they inspired, countless letter collections, journal collections, and biographies. So many biographies, some dovetailing into sociological aspects, others pertaining to one period of three-year-frenzied-activity, and to the rhythms of the words, to semantics and beyond.
To put it succinctly, what started out as a small circle of literary friends dreaming and plotting “The New Vision” of art and literature in coldwater New York flats late at night, high on Benzedrine and stoked on coffee and all-night cigarette talks, has refused to subside with discussion and dissection of its ideals and its notorious conspirators.
More than anyone else, it is surprising how Kerouac has continued to gain in prominence, when, even at the height of his popularity when he was alive and just coming off of the publishing success of “On the Road”: a mild-mannered, shy, working class, French-Canadian transplant in the Merrimack shores of New England, of America.
How does someone like that become a bestselling author, a controversial stylist, and a celebrated literary icon, in a little less than half a century’s time?
Following the track of Dennis McNally’s “Desolate Angel”, it is the story of a hard-working man trapped between two worlds, of the City of frenzy activity with the working-class temperance of the Town, and between that pull, and the many years of wandering, the man finally makes his way to success, only to plummet faster than it took to succeed.
What separates Dennis McNally’s biography of Kerouac is that it completely places Kerouac both in AND out of his time; how the Kerouac of the 1940’s and 1950’s is still influencing things to-date. It is an exhaustive biography, in the best of terms: every detail, every moment of Kerouac’s life is etched into the written word here, and the only place where the book slips up is when Jack starts slipping up, and just starts wandering from Florida to New York and back again. That latter part of the biography is stifling, as Kerouac can do nothing else but sit and waste(to the point where the penultimate chapter is called “Waiting.)
At the last end of the biography, when Kerouac’s work has been out of print for a time, and Kerouac himself is buried, McNally makes it a point to reconsider the inscription on Kerouac’s headstone: “He Honored Life”, but, as Allen Ginsberg said, “He Honored Death, Too.”
“The Road Endures” is how McNally ends this biography, as the ever-wandering Kerouac sought to find out just how far that Whitmanian road went: he wrote and wrote and wandered and wrote, and came back from the Road, and gave his writings and his self to the world.