Jack Kerouac's American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of On the Road by Paul Maher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buy it, though, because I found it more interesting than On the road, and it explains how that book was written.
I recently read Neal Cassady: the fast life of a beat hero (review here), and found several details in this book that three more light on Cassady's character and behaviour than his biography did. Perhaps Paul Maher had access to more sources. After reading the biography, I was at a loss to know why people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were attracted to Cassady, though in Ginsberg's case the initial attraction was sexual. Maher manages to explain it better, though he still does not portray Cassady as a particularly attractive character.
That still doesn't explain why I liked this book better than On the road itself. Perhaps it is because the real life of authors is often more interesting than the characters they write about. My favourite among Kerouac's books is still The Dharma bums, and perhaps that is because it is more about the influence of Gary Snyder than that of Neal Cassady, and Snyder is a more sympathetic character.
One thing that almost put me off reading the book was odd errors in language. I suppose having been an editor makes me rather intolerant of slip-ups (even though I make plenty of my own). One of the more egregious ones was on page 133, "Carolyn Cassady received a letter from her husband, postmarked January 11. In it he promised her regular installments of cash from working two jobs in New York, neither of which he had yet to procure." I presume the author intended to say either "both of which he had yet to procure" or "neither of which he had yet procured", but as it stands it is a strange piece of nonsense. There are other similar errors, writing "principal" where "principle" was meant and so on. But I'm glad that these didn't put me off, because the book is worth reading, at least to anyone who has enjoyed reading any of Kerouac's books.
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