New York Times Book Review

 

Helen Weaver met Jack Kerouac in November 1956 and found him “absurdly handsome,” writing in her memoir that he had “a high forehead with a lock of hair that fell over it” and “a kind of perpetual squint, as if too much light was coming into his eyes.” They had a tumultuous two-month affair, and she recalls their fights as well as the tender moments, like those during their first night together: “I can still hear the way he muttered ‘perfect breasts’ under his breath, as if he were talking to himself or taking notes in one of his little nickel pads.” She paints a romantic picture of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and ’60s, when she worked in publishing and hung out with Allen Ginsberg and the poet Richard Howard and was wild and loose, getting high and falling into bed almost immediately with her crushes, including Lenny Bruce.

Kerouac, of course, was averse to editing, claiming: “Writing comes from God. Once you put it down, it’s a sin to go back and change it!” Weaver, now a noted translator, would have been wise to edit —or, better yet, delete — passages on astrology, Buddhist practices and “animal communication.” Nevertheless, the book is a pleasure to read. Her descriptions of the Village are evocative, recalling a time when she wore “long skirts, Capezio ballet shoes and black stockings,” and used to “sit in the Bagatelle and have sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist of lemon.” Early on, she quotes Pasternak: “You in others: this is your soul.” Kerouac’s soul lives on through many people — Joyce Johnson, for one — but few have been as adept as Weaver at capturing both him and the New York bohemia of the time. He was lucky to have met her.

—Tara McKelvey, New York Times Book Review