The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

Thanks to Viking Penguin for the review copy of Joyce Johnson’s new title. I just got the book so will review it later,  but for now some words from the publicist:

Advance Praise for THE VOICE IS ALL

“An exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer . . . 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.” —Kirkus

“…brings an insider’s perspective to this insightful study of how Kerouac found his literary voice . . . [She] excels in her colorful, candid assessment of the evolution of this voice—up through the genesis of On the Road—the point where most other appraisals of Kerouac begin.” -Publishers Weekly

“Johnson breaks new ground in this well-written account of Kerouac’s early life . . . 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. . . Her book is essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Kerouac’s life and work.

This is quite simply the best book about Kerouac and one of the best accounts of any writer’s apprenticeship that I have read. And it should generate a serious reconsideration of Kerouac as a classical, because hyphenated, American writer, one struggling to synthesize a doubled language, culture, and class. It’s also a terrific read, a windstorm of a story.” —Russell Banks

In THE VOICE IS ALL: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac (Viking; on sale: September 17th, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-670-02510-7; 512 pp), Joyce Johnson offers a groundbreaking portrait of Jack Kerouac as a young artist, focusing on Kerouac’s slow, often painful development as a writer over the first thirty years of his life, from his early struggles to master English through the grueling years of searching for a way to write On the Road, and ending with the astonishing breakthroughs in late 1951 that resulted in the  opening sections of Visions of Cody.

Looking more deeply than previous biographers into the insular and deeply traditional Franco-American immigrant culture that Kerouac was born into, Johnson follows the implications of that heritage in both his life and his work as Kerouac uneasily attempted to balance himself between two cultures and two languages.  She puts into perspective the contradictions —cultural, sexual, and psychological —that were constantly at war within him, showing how they affected his complicated relationships with his remarkable circle of friends, his mother, and with the women whose lives he passed through.

Prior biographies have focused on the more sensational aspects of Kerouac’s life rather than the long process through which he became a writer. They tell the story of a dysfunctional life, of a man who lacked a center—forgetting that the center of Kerouac’s life was always his work.  In THE VOICE IS ALL Johnson, with access to the archive of Kerouac’s papers at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, material which was unavailable to previous biographers, has taken on these misconceptions and tried to liberate Kerouac from the legend that has congealed around him by emphasizing his extraordinary dedication to his craft.   Johnson shows how Kerouac as a writer was created to an important degree by a wide-ranging reading and study of literature, and that he was in every way a conscious artist and a severe critic of his own work.  Johnson sheds new light on the composition of On the Road, documenting how Kerouac’s legendary “spontaneous” writing was preceded by three frustrating years of revised and abandoned drafts.  Johnson argues that Kerouac would have developed into an extraordinary writer even if he had never met Neal Cassady; as she reveals, Dean Moriarty is in many ways a fictional creation, used by Kerouac as a vehicle to express his own deep sense of duality.

Johnson’s experience as a writer of both fiction and memoir and her own vivid personal memories of Kerouac, with whom she had a romance when she was twenty-one years old in 1957,  greatly inform her take on Kerouac’s creative process in THE VOICE IS ALL, resulting in a book that greatly deepens our understanding of his life and his achievement.

Joyce Johnson Events

  • NY / September 19th / Book Court
  • NY / September 25th / 192 Books
  • NY / September 26th / Strand Bookstore
  • Washington DC / October 11th / Politics & Prose
  • New York, NY / December 5th / CUNY’s Leon Levy Center for Biography
  • San Francisco, CA / January 15th / City Lights Bookstore
  • Key West, FL / January 17th / Key West Literary Seminar

About the Author

Joyce Johnson’s eight books include the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Minor Characters, the recent memoir Missing Men, the novel In the Night Café, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in  Letters, 1957–1958 (with Jack Kerouac). She has written for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and lives in New York City.

The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac
By Joyce Johnson
Viking; on sale: September 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02510-7; 512 pp

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