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Mad to Be Saved

The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson
Viking, 489 pp, £25.00, September, ISBN 978 0 670 02510 7

Jack Kerouac’s short life, big talent and last dollar were all just about exhausted when the young writer Joyce Glassman bought him a dinner of hot dogs and beans on a Saturday night in New York City in January 1957. Glassman understood he was broke, but the rest she learned only later. She thought Kerouac was beautiful, with his blue eyes and sunburned skin. He had recently returned from 63 days alone on a fire tower in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific North-West, where he wrote furiously in his journal and was tormented by dark thoughts of mortality.
Glassman was 21, born, raised and educated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She had read Kerouac’s ambitious first novel, The Town and the City, she believed in the redemptive power of love, and she was pretty much open for anything. When Kerouac asked if he could stay at her place uptown, she said: ‘If you wish.’

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