Boy Gang

Peter Prince

  • Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson
    Collins, 262 pp, £7.95, May 1983, ISBN 0 00 272511 8
  • Neurotica: The Authentic Voice of the Beat Generation 1948-1951 edited by Jay Landesman and G. Legman
    Jay Landesman, 535 pp, £19.95, July 1981, ISBN 0 905150 26 0
  • Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia
    Grove, 767 pp, £14.95, October 1983, ISBN 0 394 52270 2

Joyce Johnson was Jack Kerouac’s lover during a brief but crucial period in his career. She met him on a blind date fixed up by Allen Ginsberg in January 1957, nine months before the publication of his second novel. Outside a small circle of avant-garde writers and artists and drinking buddies, Kerouac then had few admirers. In 1950, under the name John Kerouac, he had published The Town and the City, a lengthy, rather formal account of his childhood and youth, heavily influenced by Thomas Wolfe. The novel had made little impression, and Kerouac himself had swiftly turned against it, finding its traditional style and form far too restrictive. Influenced by the creative improvisation of jazz musicians, in contact with Abstract Expressionist painters like Pollock and de Kooning, above all exhilarated and inspired by his friendship with the charismatic free-thinking and fast-talking con-man and car-thief Neal Cassady, Kerouac began to experiment with his prose, attempting to find a new form which would allow him to express his visions of himself, his friends, and the strange, new post-war American world. Over the next few years he wrote, in whole or in part, at least seven separate novels, all of which were firmly refused by the publishing world, until Viking decided to take a chance with On the Road.

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