Curation item #93 from my Kerouac bookshelf is this paperback 1999 St. Martin's Griffin first edition first printing of Ellis Amburn's Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac. 435 pages, it measures about 6" x 9" and is in very good condition. The provenance is likely that I acquired it via Amazon. Again, Mr. Bezos, you are welcome.
Amburn's biography is, at the very least, controversial. As far as reviews go, it got panned by the NY Times: "a reductive emphasis on dysfunction that not only overshadows the subject's achievements but makes them virtually inconceivable" (click here). Ann Charters was critical of it: "Amburn is just the kind of reader Kerouac feared, someone who would use 'queerness' to discredit him" (click here; click here for the referenced Herb Gold positive review; click here for the referenced Joyce Johnson negative review).
Serendipitously, Kerouac biographer (Memory Babe) Gerald Nicosia just finished reading Subterranean Kerouac and agreed to write his own review of the biography exclusively for The Daily Beat (click here).
As Nicosia concludes:
Amburn does give a lot of useful insights into the publishing world of the Fifties and Sixties, which was his terrain, and helps us to understand why Kerouac was so often at loggerheads with that world.
But to expect any new or valuable insight into Kerouac the man, from Amburn's book, would be as mistaken as to look for such in the myriad critics who misunderstood Kerouac in his own lifetime.
Amburn was Kerouac's last editor (Desolation Angels and Vanity of Duluoz), so he knows some things. Consequently, one must read Amburn with a critical eye for what may be, in fact, fact, and what may be just spin to fit Amburn's narrative about Jack's homosexuality.
It's certainly an ambitious book, and can therefore at times be tedious. If you're only going to read one or two Kerouac biographies, this shouldn't be one of them. If you're a Kerouac fanatic or scholar, it's worth reading.
Below is a picture of Shelf #3 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (13th from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Kerouac: Visions of Lowell by John J Dorfner.
Shelf #3 of my Kerouac bookshelf