Before anything else: how can a printed book be offered as an ""oral biography""? Sure, it uses transcripts of taped...

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JACK'S BOOK: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac

Before anything else: how can a printed book be offered as an ""oral biography""? Sure, it uses transcripts of taped reminiscence--but, alas, it's finally just one more example of Something That It's Actually Not Being Called Anyway. This sort of trickiness puts a pall over the integrity of Gifford and Lee's book right away, and it's quickly compounded as the authors protest against the drowning of Kerouac's work under the flood of personal legend--a torrent they then blithely go on to feed. Some of the remembrances here are good (John Clellon Holmes: ""If he'd [Kerouac] known how the world worked he never would have broken his heart over it""; Philip Whalen; Herbert Huncke; William Burroughs) and some incoherent (Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg, Luanne Henderson). Kerouac's youth in Lowell, Mass., his abortive football career at Columbia, his hipster baptism, his love for Neal Cassady's demonic energy, his Buddhism, alcoholism, basic conservatism--they're all here. But finding a fact and isolating it in the testimony of peers is a little like catching the gold ring on a merry-go-round: if not on the first circuit, then maybe on the second. It's annoying. Interesting particulars--that New York's Forty-Second Street hipster scene included the presence of Alfred Kinsey, doing quiet fieldwork for his sex study--are melted beneath too much unfocused subjectivity, Jack's friends all babbling at once. And Gifford and Lee never once say anything about Kerouac's work except that this was good, this not so good. Mugged by fame, Kerouac suffered by having patrimony for the so-called Beat Generation dropped in his lap, unwanted. Why he was a little better and a little worse than his reputation, though, you'd never find out from this basically lazy assemblage. The biography of choice is still Ann Charters' Kerouac (1973).

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 1978

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1978