JACK KEROUAC by Barry Miles


King of the Beats, A Portrait
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A project for which there could scarcely be less demand: not just another telling of the numbingly well-documented life of Beat Generation warhorse Jack Kerouac, but one penned by the indefatigably irrelevant Beat crony Barry Miles. This completes the trilogy started with Miles’s clumsy biographies of Allen Ginsberg (1989) and William S. Burroughs (1993), only this time his subject wasn—t around to help him out with insights and information. Miles notes the obvious, that Kerouac’s —work is located in an uneasy limbo between fiction and memoir,— and mentions repeatedly Kerouac’s desire that his works should ultimately form a single epic saga. Yet he undercuts himself, on the one hand, by criticizing Kerouac’s work as inaccurate autobiography, and on the other by relying on the writings as a source of biographical detail. The result is a hash of conflicting perspectives. Aside from a prurient emphasis on Kerouac’s gay sexual forays, Miles offers little that’s new and much that’s absurd. Having established that Kerouac was a pathologically irresponsible, abusive, mixed-up drunk, Miles rants fatuously about Kerouac’s refusal to acknowledge his daughter: —Where was Kerouac when he should have been reading his daughter bedtime stories, sharing with her his love for words?— Miles claims that Kerouac introduced —a level of candour previously unknown in modern literature . . . at a time when real men were strong silent types who didn—t cry or even say very much,— yet he fails to provide any context or justification for such assertions. Identifying Kerouac’s never-revised, often meaningless ’spontaneous prose— as generated by a method —normally used for rapidly written pulps and romance novels,— Miles fails to distinguish between Kerouac’s lazy, amphetamine-fueled hubris and the more substantial, less volatile craft of the genre writer. One respects Miles only for admitting that huge amounts of Kerouac’s work are wretched. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-6043-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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