Kirkus Reviews QR Code
JACK KEROUAC by Jack Kerouac


Selected Letters, 1957-1969

by Jack Kerouac & edited by Ann Charters

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-86190-1
Publisher: Viking

The second of a two-volume set of Kerouac’s interminable correspondence, containing letters from the publication of On the Road until his death. Hundreds of pages of hundreds of letters follow a brief introduction by respected Kerouac scholar Charters. The correspondence to Kerouac’s cohorts, including important participants in the Beat movement, such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gary Snyder, illuminates how these writers perceived one another and their art. Kerouac’s candid words expose his raw reactions to the often harsh critical reception (what he refers to as “phoney criticisms”) his writing received. He rhapsodizes—at times eloquently, at times excessively—over family life and his extensive travels, his legal proceedings, and his love affairs. Kerouac also ponders Buddhism, though the enlightenment potential of such remarks as “A golden giant has finally pulled the dharma out of my eyebrows” must stand as minimal. We see a man at his most vile as well: his virulent misogyny, his puffed-up sense of self-worth, and his alcoholism. Charters’s shrewd commentary, in the form of brief introductions to the letters and footnotes to explicate their more arcane references, judiciously provides the reader with sufficient information to decipher the more esoteric passages, which would remain impenetrable to all but the most devoted fans without her assistance. The question to ask yourself about this book is: How much do you care that on April 18, 1963, Kerouac wrote that his works are “too complicated for average readers” and thanked Robert Giroux for a loan? If you do care, this book is indispensable to your understanding of Kerouac; if you don’t, reread his fiction, which is so autobiographical that it at times makes the letters redundant.