A slender memoir of life as the wife of Jack Kerouac, beatnik supreme.
Joan Haverty was a bohemian in training, romantically involved first with a suicidal intellectual and then with an intellectually tone-deaf physicist, when she bumped into Jack Kerouac in New York in 1950. Dissolute but brilliant, the budding novelist instantly announced to her that they would marry. And so they did, though a friend warned Haverty that no good would come of it because Kerouac, who still lived at home, was a “mama’ s boy.” Haverty learned soon enough that her friend’s warning was apt, although she came to enjoy her French-Canadian mother-in-law’s protection and affection (“ ‘doan listen to Jackie,’ mama warned. ‘He ees fou. A stupid boy!’ ”) even as Kerouac alternately ignored her, impregnated her, and tried to share her sexually with his fellow delinquent and writer Neal Cassady. Here, Cassady comes off as a far more honorable and interesting fellow than Kerouac, someone who inspired dreams of hitting the road and living free of ordinary concerns; listening to him, Haverty writes, made her regret “and not for the first time . . . not having been born a male.” For his part, Kerouac emerges as an insensitive, alcoholic oaf with few redeeming qualities. Haverty is not the first to portray Kerouac so, of course, and she is self-aware and self-critical enough that her depiction does not seem to be the mere vengeance of an ex-spouse. (She also gets in a nice shot at Allen Ginsberg, “wringing nervous hands together like a fly.”) Well-written though it is, Haverty’s memoir, assembled after her death from cancer in 1990, is of only tertiary importance in the vast library that surrounds Kerouac and his circle. There is little in it that has not been published elsewhere, and no amazing revelations to make it newsworthy.
For devoted collectors of the Beats only.