cover image Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero

Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero

David Sandison, Graham Vickers, . . Chicago Review, $24.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-1-55652-615-2

Neal Cassady's wild life has been unreliably chronicled many times, most famously by Jack Kerouac, who portrayed him as the mythically restless Dean Moriarity in On the Road . The primary goal of this new biography is to separate the facts of Cassady's life from the various legends that surround it. Thus, the narrative begins with numerous true and fabricated versions of its subject's birth, after which it diligently pursues the facts behind Cassady's often exaggerated road trips and sexual encounters. While a great deal of the book recounts Cassady's influential friendships with Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, the character who is most vividly and sympathetically brought to life is Carolyn Cassady, Neal's wife for 20 years. Carolyn served as his rarely heeded conscience, and her presence in the tale repeatedly reminds the reader of the consequences of Neal's selfish and destructive activities. The story clips along steadily and the prose is consistently sharp, but Sandison (Jack Kerouac ), who died in 2004, and Vickers (21st-Century Hotel ) offer scant analysis of Cassady's character. The authors do have a strong sense of movement and scope, however, which renders this a crucial tool in understanding the life, if not the mind, of Neal Cassady. 16 b&w photos. (Sept.)