Brother Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation by Ann Charters and Samuel Charterssubmitted by Tom
What would you expect from Ann Charters when writing about Jack Kerouac? Perfection? Yes, that is what you got! Ann had first seen Kerouac in 1956 at the famous Six Gallery Poetry Reading, later she would become his first biographer (Kerouac 1973). About a decade later she went to Kerouac’s house to work on his bibliography. There she met a drunken, defeated man.
I was unaware of Ann’s closeness to John Clellon Holmes, so this was a very pleasant surprise. I have read Holmes’ two most well-known novels, but was unaware that he was a poet as well. And I had no idea what he did with his life beyond the 1950’s.
Both Jack and John were young, budding, unpublished novelists when they met on 4th of July weekend in 1948. Jack and John were born on the same day (March 12th) four years apart. Jack was the older of the two. Both were New Englanders born in Massachusetts. Both went to Columbia University. Both were heavily into Jazz. Holmes was the first person to read Kerouac’s famous On the Road Scroll on April 27th, 1951.
Kerouac eventually became famous as “The King of the Beats” when On the Road was finally published in 1957. Holmes was virtually unknown and, if read, underappreciated. Kerouac was jealous of Holmes’ GO, but very fond of his second novel The Horn.
Holmes may not have had the talent or excitement of Kerouac, but nonetheless, he is a polished writer who shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored. Although Kerouac had a novel published first (The Town and the City, 1950), Holmes wrote what some consider the first “Beat Novel”, GO (1952). It tells a similar story as Kerouac’s On the Road, but from a different perspective. Many of the same Beat characters are in both novels.
Brother Souls delves deep into the psyches of both authors. Many sordid details of Holmes’ obsessive, drunken sex life are detailed. The language in his journals is frank, and not for the squeamish. Jack and John’s behavior in the 60’s was deplorable. Jack at times turned into a drunken, racist, stumblebum. But through all their unsavory behavior, both continued to write. In their lifetimes, both were ignored as writers much of the time, and often received cruel and unfair reviews.
John and Jack remained writers and friends throughout their lifetimes. This book finally gives Holmes his due as a serious writer who was an integral part of the Beat Generation and not just a writer friend and observer of Kerouac.
If interested, here is a good, in-depth review: