cover image Door Wide Open

Door Wide Open

Jack Kerouac, Joyce Johnson. Viking Books, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89040-8

In a hip, literate correspondence marked by high diction and '50s slang, 21-year-old Johnson (born Glassman) and 35-year-old Kerouac chart the flowering of the Beats and their complicated love affair. An initial matchmaking move by Allen Ginsberg led to Johnson's and Kerouac's first meeting in Greenwich Village, followed by 22 months of romance, withdrawal and, eventually, friendship. Through her understated commentary and narrative links, NBCC-Award winner Johnson (Minor Characters) provides tender insight into Kerouac's troubles, particularly his unease at becoming the Beat spokesman with the 1957 publication of On the Road and his ""convoluted attachment"" to his mother, Memere, which made it impossible for him to sustain relationships with other women. Johnson's presence throughout makes the story hers--that of a sheltered Barnard grad who considered writing ""an illicit and transgressive act"" and who must have found in Kerouac a kindred soul. Yet it was her desire for a more lasting union than Kerouac would give that led to their breakup: ""`You're nothing but a big bag of wind,"" she told a dallying Kerouac, and left. Although the Kerouac romance dominates the text, the author's brief description of her happy marriage to James Johnson, which ended with his death in a motorcycle accident, puts the affair in perspective and shows readers a greater reason for the sadness that suffuses the book. First serial to Vanity Fair; 3-city author tour. (June)