John Stokes

Dead Beats

Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac

By Gerald Nicosia

Penguin Books 767pp £5.95 order from our bookshop

The Beats: An Anthology of 'Beat' Writing

By Park Honan (Ed)

Dent 250pp £4.95 order from our bookshop

‘Over-writing had become an American tradition’ says Gerald Nicosia as he opens his discussion of Kerouac’s early book , The Town and the City. Moments of caution and concision are infrequent in a critic who mainly demonstrates that overestimation is an American tradition too. Elsewhere Nicosia thinks that Kerouac’s sequence Blues is ‘one of the most important poetic works in the second half of the twentieth century’, a judgement so over-the-top that it almost compares with Kerouac’s own lunatic view that On the Road was ‘the first modern novel’. Memory Babe, which sprawls over 700 pages, is the latest ‘definitive’ account of a life of such colossal over-indulgence that it wilts the soul simply to read about it, an all-American epic in which the hero gradually turns from an unusually well-read football jock into a middle-aged alcoholic who couldn’t hit the toilet bowl (the incapacity is unfortunately well-documented), let alone the right phrase.

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