Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac

Ellis Amburn, Author St. Martin's Press $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-312-14531-6
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the Beat novelist whose road adventures inspired a rebellious generation, was, according to this often startling, unflinching biography, a self-destructive alcoholic egomaniac who believed he was Shakespeare and Balzac in previous reincarnations, an amphetamine addict, a misogynist, an anti-Semite and a ""homophobic homoerotic"" who concealed his bisexual identity through gay bashing, both verbal and physical. Yet Amburn--biographer of Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and Roy Orbison, and editor of two of Kerouac's novels (Desolation Angels; Vanity of Duluoz)--is not a debunker. This well-researched biography is filled with questionable claims: e.g., Kerouac is ""one of the major novelists of the twentieth century""; ""In popularizing Buddhism and redefining morality for a generation, [his] spiritual impact on America was one of the strongest since that of Cotton Mather."" None of the Beats or their circle--Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Norman Mailer--comes off well in Amburn's relentless cataloguing of uninhibited lives, sexual excesses, irresponsible behavior and self-promotion. Readers may find this biography tedious and exhausting. Photos. Author tour. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1998
Release date: 08/01/1998
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-312-20677-2
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-1-4668-2131-6
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