The New York Post

 

There is a tendency for memoirs written by women about The Great Man to be self-abnegating exercises in a kind of inverted narcissism — the author seeking to prove her worth as muse, as consort, as chosen one. Not so with Helen Weaver’s beautiful, plainspoken elegy for her time spent with Jack Kerouac, who suddenly appeared at her door in the West Village one white, frosty morning with Allen Ginsberg, who knew Weaver’s roommate, in tow.

“Allen said they were all poets, and the deep respect with which he uttered the word ‘poet’ indicated that being a poet was a passport to anywhere,” Weaver writes. “And Jack, the little man with the peculiar name, the one in the lumberjack shirt who looked like he had just gotten off a ship, was handsome enough to be a movie star in spite of his five o’clock shadow and rumpled clothes.”

And off we go.

Weaver’s brief relationship with Kerouac is the book’s centrifugal force, and though she has clearly never gotten over him, this is the story of her life. And so we read about this nice girl from Westchester moving to New York and discovering rock ’n’ roll, sexual experimentation, booze, analysis. She gets work at a publishing house, and though she often shows up hungover and heartbroken, is a success.

She embarks on a tumultuous relationship with Kerouac, whom she pegs early on as an alcoholic and a depressive, not the most reliable guy. So she kicks him out of her apartment, where he has been staying rent-free. His response is great: “Unrequited love’s a bore.”

We get to know Kerouac about as well as Weaver did — which is to say, not well at all. He was verbose on the page, well-edited in speech, elusive yet open, desperate to be loved yet, as he wrote, “maybe I’m too ‘wild’ for protracted love affairs.”

After Kerouac leaves, Weaver spends many a night in her apartment, which was kitty-corner from Kerouac’s hangout.She looks out at the White Horse Tavern, wondering if he is there, who he is with, if he is alone. She later learns he is seeing someone else. She moves on, sort of, runs around with other Beats, has a one-night stand with Lenny Bruce, moves upstate and tries to get over the scene. She does, kind of, and towards the end of the book writes of attending a conference about the Beats at NYU in 1994.

“We were just a bunch of white-haired bohemians, beatniks, and hippies,” she writes, “all doctrinal differences merged in the general slog toward eternity.”

—Maureen Callahan, The New York Post