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The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

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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 languages, he forged a voice to contain his dualities.  Looking more deeply than previous biographers into how Kerouac’s French Canadian background ...

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The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

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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
Library Journal
Aspiring novelist Johnson met Jack Kerouac on a blind date nine months before On the Road was published. Minor Characters, her National Book Critics Circle Award winner, detailed their relationship. Here Johnson considers how Kerouac's French Canadian background influenced his work. For literati everywhere.
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
"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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670025107
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 9/13/2012
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.57 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Introduction xvii

Part 1 Franco-American Ghosts

The Lost Brother 3

Jean-Louis Kerouac 14

Part 2 A Half-American Boyhood

La Salle de Mort 27

A Catholic Education 34

Pawtucketville 43

Football Hero 51

First Love 61

Part 3 An Uprooting

Manhattan 71

The Summer of Sebastian 83

Columbia 91

The Escape 105

Part 4 The War

At Sea 123

Edie Parker 138

Part 5 The Libertine Circle

The Season of Lucien 155

Birth of a Symbolist 170

Apartment 51 184

Benzedrine Weekends 199

A Father's Death 209

Part 6 Postwar

Enter Neal Cassady 219

The Road 236

Reaching California 247

Ozone Park 256

Part 7 "White Ambitions"

The Conquest of Manhattan 269

The Summer of Visions and Parties 275

Enter John Clellon Holmes 285

"The Rudeness of Being" 297

Part 8 "Rain and Rivers"

"Whither Goest Thou in Thy Shiny Car at Night?" 309

A Change in Luck 320

Continental Divide 332

The Edge of Success 344

The French Canadian Older Brother 356

Part 9 The "Rush of Truth"

The Unwritable Road Novel 369

The Girl with the Innocent and Pure Eyes 375

"The Voice Is All" 380

The Road Opens Up 392

Deep Form 404

Part 10 Interior Music

Visions of Neal 413

Tranced Fixations 417

Rêves 430

Acknowledgments 437

Notes 439

Index 473

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2013

    Must Read for Kerouac fans

    An excellent biography of Kerouac. Well written and easy to read it will help you begin to understand how his life became his inspiration.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    This is one VERY good read!

    I had thought maybe this would be only more of the same information everyone already knows. But it is most definitely NOT.
    As a gift to my well educated poet/artist husband, who was one of Jack Kerouac's original believers, he is not only reading this one incredibly
    slowly, but with SUCH great relish at finally discovering what Jack's actual commitment to his art, truly was.
    This just might be the final word on Jack Kerouac. The one that truly helps the world to understand the Fine Artist he truly was.
    Thank YOU, Joyce Johnson!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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