cover image American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light

American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light

Iain Sinclair. Faber & Faber, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8654-7867-1

This rewarding literary travelogue through the turf of Beat poets and novelists is a layered, shape-shifting homage to their edgy rhythms. English poet, novelist, and actor Sinclair (Downriver) combines history, memory, and travel in a dizzying mix that will leave the novice reader pawing through primary sources in order to sort out the map of their influence, culturally and geographically. Readers steeped in the works of Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, Malcolm Lowry, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder (among the many writers referenced in his kaleidoscopic recollections) will enjoy the jam-packed depictions of these “psychogeographic energy lines,” as Sinclair (b. 1943) leaps from Black Mountain College to Lowry’s damp beach shack in Vancouver to Ed Dorn’s L.A. living room where he rhapsodizes about the prowess of the soccer star Wayne Rooney on television. Unbound by narrative constraint, stuffed with personal recollections of interactions with his heroes, shifting between time frames without warning or clear intent, the book’s main flaw might be its overabundance of material. But there’s plenty of humor and a respect for his idols; his account of his second pilgrimage to William Burroughs’s home is particularly good. Of his quest, Sinclair concedes: “I’m not sure what I was searching for, but I think I may have found it.” Any reader with a fraction of Sinclair’s robust, relentless knowledge and enthusiasm will feel the same. Agent: John Berlyne, Zeno Agency. (Apr.)