Dharma Beat

 

Helen Weaver writes with warmth and candor about Kerouac, the fifties and quite a bit more. The Awakener references Dan Wakefield’s New York in the Fifties and Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters, acknowledging Weaver’s debt to these writers and their books. Certainly this is a memoir in the same vein, but there’s something surprisingly fresh about it. Weaver’s point of view and unique sympathies make this a brand new story. Instead of a rehash of the same old Kerouac episodes, this book offers poet and translator Richard Howard, a visit to Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick, a night at Brecht’s Threepenny Opera starring Lotte Lenya, the comedy routines of Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins singing “I Put a Spell on You,” and how Leonard Bernstein helped the author become orgasmic.

Weaver writes very well, with a light touch and a sense of humor. She shares some funny lines from friends and colleagues of the fifties, when she lived in Greenwich Village and worked briefly for Paradigm Books and then for five years at Farrar, Straus. Included are some interesting anecdotes about Roger Straus, Robert Giroux and others. She doesn’t pull punches with regard to failings and foibles–her own and others’–but her recollections seem to hold no bitterness or recrimination. It would appear she has learned to forgive and remember.

—Daniel Barth, Dharma Beat

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