Books!: Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac

Subterranean Kerouac
Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac
Ellis Amburn; St. Martin’s Griffin 1999
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[Publisher Weekly] Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the Beat novelist whose road adventures inspired a rebellious generation, was, according to this often startling, unflinching biography, a self-destructive alcoholic egomaniac who believed he was Shakespeare and Balzac in previous reincarnations, an amphetamine addict, a misogynist, an anti-Semite and a “homophobic homoerotic” who concealed his bisexual identity through gay bashing, both verbal and physical. Yet Amburn?biographer of Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and Roy Orbison, and editor of two of Kerouac’s novels (Desolation Angels; Vanity of Duluoz)?is not a debunker. This well-researched biography is filled with questionable claims: e.g., Kerouac is “one of the major novelists of the twentieth century”; “In popularizing Buddhism and redefining morality for a generation, [his] spiritual impact on America was one of the strongest since that of Cotton Mather.” None of the Beats or their circle?Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer?comes off well in Amburn’s relentless cataloguing of uninhibited lives, sexual excesses, irresponsible behavior and self-promotion. Readers may find this biography tedious and exhausting.


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