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Victory of Jack Kerouac. By Joyce Johnson.">
The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac. By Joyce Johnson.
Once upon a time in America, five dollars would buy enough gas to drive from Tucson, Arizona, to California. This was during the postwar 1940s, when Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were making the cross-country road trips, at speeds over a hundred miles an hour, that would provide Kerouac with the material for his classic Beat novel, On the Road
. Of course, if one doesn’t have the five dollars, it might as well be five thousand. And if one has the cash but feels guilty for having it, the exhilaration of unbounded flight becomes tainted by all sorts of qualms. Now surviving, now thriving, now crash-landing—at crippling physical cost to himself and destructive emotional cost to those close enough to him to recognize the dynamics of his riven psyche (family, friends, and lovers, among whom the writer Joyce Johnson was one)—Jack Kerouac forged a voice that has come to be appreciated as a landmark literary invention in American letters. Its elements are ecstasy arising from misery (like Thomas Wolfe), catalogues of desire (think Whitman and Melville), and Kerouac’s very own technique of reaching rock bottom before emerging with a recreated world in his hands: