KEROUAC: The Definitive Biography

Paul Maher, Jr., Author, David Amran, Foreword by , with a foreword by David Amram. Taylor $27.95 (484p) ISBN 978-0-87833-305-9

Maher, who teaches high school English in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Mass., and is former editor of the Kerouac Quarterly , aggressively upholds the local hero's literary and personal reputation. The result is less critical biography than gushing fan letter, in which adulation of Kerouac's "personal courage" in adopting an unorthodox writing style trumps any serious literary analysis. Predominantly relying on Kerouac's writings as the basis for his life story raises obvious methodological questions and also loads the account with irrelevant details. More disturbingly, Maher bends over backward to clean up his subject, suggesting Kerouac's persistent expressions of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia were somehow aberrational or else an unfortunate side effect of alcoholism, for which excuses also abound. The sympathy frequently verges on the ridiculous, as when Maher blames Allen Ginsberg and others for being more concerned about the obscenity trial over "Howl" than about Kerouac's feelings. Previous biographers come under heavy criticism, and though it's rarely stated outright, the main point of contention appears to be the possibility Kerouac had sex with other men. Maher rejects the evidence, accepting on its face Kerouac's claim to have slept with hundreds of women; presented with firsthand testimony from Gore Vidal, he dismisses the account as "sodomous." This hero worship contributes little, if anything, to the debate over the beat generation icon's literary merits. 24 b&w photos not seen by PW. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 557 pages - 978-1-58979-366-8
Open Ebook - 584 pages - 978-1-58979-690-4
Show other formats
Discover what to read next