Off The Road by Carolyn Cassady
Written by Alyse Wax
Published August 13, 2008
Off the Road is Carolyn Cassady's memoir. Carolyn was the wife of
beat writer Neal Cassady, lover to Jack Kerouac, and part friend,
part rival to Allen Ginsberg. She talks about how she met Neal, their
tumultuous marriage, their three children, and her relationship – at
Neal's urging – with Kerouac. For Beat fans, there are copious
excerpts from correspondences between the three writers.
Sadly, Carolyn manages to take a fascinating era in American
literature and make it dull. I will admit, I was barely able to make
it halfway through the book before I gave up. Carolyn's conservative
New England upbringing is something she just can't shake.
Uncomfortable situations are tip-toed around. Anything even remotely
sexual is all but avoided.
Her prose is stiff and formal. Seemingly insignificant incidences and
anecdotes are recalled in excruciating detail. For example, a
"pay-the-rent" party Carolyn, Neal, and Jack attend receives almost a
full chapter, when they spend only a few minutes there, speak to no
one, and leave after Jack accidentally ruins a set of bongos.
Personality wise, Carolyn does not fit in with the Beat scene. She is
extraordinarily conservative. She blushes at the thought of having a
man in her apartment. She is embarrassed and uncomfortable with her
husband's bisexual past. When child #2, Jami, was on the way, Carolyn
finally had the balls to kick out her philandering husband, which
made me cheer a little.
He ended up moving back in, but not until after he knocked up another
woman and married her bigamously (if briefly). But rather than
cutting this woman out, Carolyn humors her constant, clueless letters
and phone calls. Carolyn Cassady is archetypical 1950s housewife.
Ultimately, Carolyn's view of the Beat movement is largely from the
outside looking in. The Beat lifestyle does not fit in with Carolyn's
ideal lifestyle, but her deep love for Neal keeps her around for so
long. Unless you are a student of Beat culture, pass this one up.