cover image Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

Barry Miles. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6043-0

Making bricks without straw is a phrase that suggests a product empty of data, but Miles, biographer of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and once proprietor of a ""Beat"" bookshop in London, has made the process work in the case of Kerouac. Apparently unable to quote from more than a few scraps of copyright writings because of opposition from the Kerouac estate, Miles has turned to other sources to limn Kerouac's sex-obsessed, alcohol-sodden and drug-overdosed life. A striking portrait emerges of the author of On the Road (1957). Composing prolifically on teletype rolls, Kerouac produced what he thought of as spontaneous writing--barely fictional reportage about the lives of his self-styled ""Beat"" (for beatific) generation. Outwardly virile, looking like a mill-town Canuck lumberjack, Kerouac was, Miles contends, ""infantilised by his mother and unable to behave as an adult."" Miles sees the mark of mutual Oedipal feelings in Kerouac's work and in his overheated life with his mother, to whom he always returned. Miles concedes that Kerouac's writing is ""often splendid"" and influential, but he dismisses most of it as self-indulgent concoctions for a market that the Beats created for themselves. A little more about this marketing would have made his book a more welcome addition to the Kerouac biography shelf, already crammed with such titles as Ann Charters's Kerouac, Gerald Nicosia's Memory Babe and Ellis Amburn's Subterranean Kerouac. (Nov.)