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Anthony VenutoloLike Hemingway, writer Jack Kerouac is ingrained into the very fabric of "The American Literary Experience." Where Hemingway was distinguished, Kerouac was cool...pop culture's guy's guy. A hip scribe who thought nothing of hopping a freighter in the middle of nowhere to arrive at an even more remote destination and work as a farmhand, Kerouac would earn just enough for a pack of Chesterfields, a bottle of Dewar's and, possibly, a copy of the newest Charlie Parker LP. He didn't give a rat's ass about conforming. The "nine-to-five" wasn't in his vernacular.
That's why Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, a collection of quite conventional postcards, letters and poems through which Kerouac corresponded with girlfriend Joyce Johnson in 1957 and '58, is so illuminating. Filled with the same literary scatting and spontaneous prose for which Kerouac is best known, Door starts in a Greenwich Village Howard Johnson shortly before the publication of On the Road made him a household name. Broke and womanless, Kerouac, 34, was set up on a blind date with 21-year-old aspiring writer (and beat groupie) Johnson by poet Allen Ginsberg.
Interspersed between letters, Johnson's commentary reads almost like guilty-pleasure fiction in this supreme soap opera of star-crossed beat lovers.
Door Wide Open is a remarkable portrait of Kerouac as he struggles to cope with his bewildered public, dodge critical attacks against his subsequent works and balance his relationship with the only woman who might have truly understood him.