cover image Neal Cassady Collected Letters, 1944-1967

Neal Cassady Collected Letters, 1944-1967

Neal Cassady. Penguin Books, $20 (490pp) ISBN 978-0-14-200217-9

Though he inspired the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Beat icon Cassady never published a single book in his lifetime. A restless and uneven writer, he lacked the discipline of his more determined friends, noting himself in a 1948 letter to Kerouac,""My prose has no individual style as such...perhaps, words are not the way for me."" But stylistically sound or not, Cassady's writing inspired a whole generation of authors, and, as evidenced by the copious letters he penned, his life was marked by artistic conflict and wanderlust. Compiling all of the thrice-married writer's correspondence into one volume for the first time, British editor Moore adeptly documents Cassady's rise from teenaged inmate at the Colorado State Reformatory to chauffeur for Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. Unfortunately, few of these letters record Cassady's most famous adventures, such as the cross-country trip with Kerouac that inspired On the Road. The vast majority of the epistles concern Cassady's failed love affairs and his inability to both keep a job and financially support his wives. Moore gives much needed historical commentary in places, although his decision to sporadically insert letters to Cassady from his ex-wives breaks up the flow of his subject's central narrative. Although there are a few literary gems within Cassady's body of work, such as his free-flowing""Joan Anderson"" letter, for the most part, his letters prove that his most enduring legacy is his tremendous influence on his Beat friends.