The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

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by Joyce Johnson
     
 

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A groundbreaking portrait of Kerouac as a young artist—from the award-winning author of Minor Characters

In The Voice is All, Joyce Johnson, author of her classic memoir, Door Wide Open, about her relationship with Jack Kerouac, brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend to show how, caught between two cultures and two

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Overview

A groundbreaking portrait of Kerouac as a young artist—from the award-winning author of Minor Characters

In The Voice is All, Joyce Johnson, author of her classic memoir, Door Wide Open, about her relationship with Jack Kerouac, brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend to show how, caught between two cultures and two languages, he forged a voice to contain his dualities.  Looking more deeply than previous biographers into how Kerouac’s French Canadian background enriched his prose and gave him a unique outsider’s vision of America, she  tracks his development from boyhood through the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in the composition of On the Road, followed by Visions of Cody. By illuminating Kerouac’s early choice to sacrifice everything to his work, The Voice Is All deals with him on his own terms and puts the tragic contradictions of his nature and his complex relationships into perspective.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957–1958, Johnson recounts her love affair with the author of On the Road (1957). Now, in this well-documented biography, she focuses on Kerouac's first 30 years, analyzing the impact his French-Canadian heritage and his first language, Joual, had on his life and work. Drawing on Kerouac material in the New York Public Library's Berg Collection, Johnson provides fresh insights into his early literary influences and his friendships with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, John Clellon Holmes, and, especially, Neal Cassady. She is particularly good at exploring the psychology of Kerouac's relationship with women and the effect of his attachment to his mother on those relationships. The portrait of Kerouac that emerges is one of a complicated individual, full of contradictions, who, above all else, was dedicated to his art. VERDICT Johnson breaks new ground in this well-written account of Kerouac's early life. She ends in 1951 with the stylistic breakthrough that eventually would lead to the experimental prose of Visions of Cody, written then but not published in its entirety until 1972. Her book is essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Kerouac's life and work.—William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Kirkus Reviews
An exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer. With unprecedented access to the New York Public Library's extensive Berg Collection of Kerouac artifacts, Johnson (Missing Men, 2005, etc.) tells the familiar story of the rise of the reluctant "king of the Beats" through the unfamiliar lens of his notebooks, manuscripts and correspondence with family, friends, lovers, editors and writers. The collection was unavailable to scholars for three decades, and access to it is still tightly controlled by the Kerouac estate. Johnson uses her opportunity as a pioneer in this new era of Kerouac scholarship to turn a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac's evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time. She ends her chronology in late 1951, as Kerouac found the voice and method he'd employ for the rest of his brief career while seeking a publisher for On the Road and working on the novel he considered his masterpiece, Visions of Cody. While still detailing the chaotic and occasionally tragic events of the writer's life--from mill-town football hero to multiply divorced dipsomaniac mama's boy/cult idol--Johnson's focus allows her to trace a trajectory of success rather than follow his painfully familiar decline into alcoholism and premature death. "[T]o me," she writes, "what is important is Jack's triumph in arriving at the voice that matched his vision." Of perhaps most interest was her discovery of just how important his French-Canadian heritage was to Kerouac's sense of identity. He considered its earthy patois his native language and seems to have translated his thoughts from it into the muscular English with which he's associated. There's plenty of life in these pages to fascinate casual readers, and Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer. A triumph of scholarship.
From the Publisher
“An intense and wonderful exploration into the mind of Jack Kerouac, the hard territory and brutal experiences that produced him and his own fierce determination to become a writer….Johnson succeeds in blowing apart many of the stereotypes of Kerouac as an author and as a man.” —Dylan Foley, Chicago Tribune

                                                              

“Spectacular…definitely the Kerouac book for our time…traces the birth of a literary genius and dispels many of the Kerouac myths: that he wrote from memory, not the imagination, and that he wrote spontaneously and without revising…Johnson knows how to create suspense and weave the complex lives of her characters into a narrative that rumbles along…her own voice is eloquent, her prose clear and crisp.” —Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle

                                                         

“A major new biography that traces the gradual emergence of the voice that came to define Kerouac’s distinctive style of autobiographical fiction…Johnson redirects our focus to Kerouac’s writing – an aspect that has been overshadowed by his legend.” —Lauren Du Graf, The Daily Beast

                                                             

“Johnson has wisely chosen to emphasize the part of Kerouac’s life all but lost in the Kerouac legend: Behind the coast-to-coast craziness, the drug- and booze-inspired flights of mysticism, the Benzedrine-fueled writing sprees, a very serious writer was at work.” —Bill Marvel, The Dallas Morning News

                                                              

“[A] remarkable new biography…the final section of this book take on the urgency of a thriller reaching its climax. So closely does Johnson track Kerouac’s evolution as a writer that one senses a breakthrough right around the corner.” —John Freeman, Barnes and Noble review

                                                                      

“In The Voice is All, Johnson brilliantly and intimately gets beyond the Kerouac legend to the solitary soul of the man...she has infused Kerouac’s work with excitement, struggle, desperation, and love.” —Royal Young, Interviewmagazine.com

                                                               

“Johnson, an award-winning memoirist in her own right, draws from her relationship with Kerouac, as well as Kerouac’s private papers, for an unromanticized (but deeply personal) take on a man whose conflicted, roving essence continues to resonate.” —Megan O’Grady, vogue.com

                                                                 

“A magnificent bildungsroman biography…Johnson has poured herself into the book in the way artists to works of the imagination…more rewarding than Johnson’s inside storytelling are her insights into Kerouac’s ambitions as a writer.” —Mindy Aloff, The Virginia Quarterly Review

                                                                  

“Johnson proves herself to be a rigorous, knowledgeable, and penetrating biographer in this engrossing portrait of Kerouac as a divided soul…she offers exceptionally lucid coverage of his depression, alcoholism, and every significant relationship in his surging life…most valuable is Johnson’s discerning analysis of what Kerouac hoped to achieve in his by-turns exalted and anguished transmutation of experience into literature.” —Donna Seaman, ALA Booklist

                                                                          

“Johnson brings an outsider’s perspective to this insightful study of how Kerouac found his voice as a writer…[she] excels in her colorful, candid assessment of the evolution of [Kerouac’s] voice.” —Publishers Weekly

                                                                             

“A triumph of scholarship…an exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer…[Johnson] turns a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac’s evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time…Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer.” —Kirkus Reviews

                                                                              

“Johnson breaks new ground in this well-written account of Kerouac’s early life…the portrait of Kerouac that emerges is one of a complicated individual, full of contradictions, who, above all else, was dedicated to his art…essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Kerouac’s life and work.” —Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670025107
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Publication date:
09/13/2012
Pages:
512
Product dimensions:
6.62(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.57(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This is quite simply the best book about Kerouac and one of the best accounts of any writer's apprenticeship that I have read." —-Russell Banks

Meet the Author

Joyce Johnson’s books include the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Minor Characters, Missing Men, Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957–1958 (with Jack Kerouac), and In the Night Café. She has written for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and lives in New York City.

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