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Missing Men: A Memoirby Joyce Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
From an award-winning author, a new memoir about loss and survival.
Joyce Johnson's classic Minor Characters is valued not only for its portrayal of her relationship with Jack Kerouac but also for its stunning evocation of what it meant to grow up female in the 1950s. In Missing Men, Johnson gives us an even more revelatory self-portrait as she examines — from a unique woman's perspective — the far-reaching reverberations of fatherlessness.
Born in 1935, she was an orphan's daughter, named for her grandfather, an immigrant poet from Warsaw who killed himself when her mother was only five. Johnson would marry two artists who were also fatherless. James Johnson died in a motorcycle accident, making her a widow at twenty-seven. Peter Pinchbeck, obsessed with reinventing abstract painting, was unable to commit himself to marriage and fatherhood. Telling a compelling story that has "shaped itself around absences," Missing Men presents us with the arc and the flavor of a unique New York life — from the author's adventures as a Broadway stage child managed by her implacable mother to the fateful encounters that later brought her love and ultimately left her to make her way alone as an artist in her own right.
"Best known for her chronicles of the beats, Minor Characters and Door Wide Open (with Jack Kerouac), Johnson returns to those times as she retells the story of her life with — and without — the men who mattered most to her, including the grandfather for whom she was named, who committed suicide before she was born. '[M]y life has shaped itself around absences,' she writes, 'first by happenstance; ultimately, perhaps, by choice.' These absences form the structure of this fine memoir. The first section covers Johnson's early years as a child actress and her mother's intense desire for her to make something of herself. It ends with her mother, who goes on to become her 'negative muse,' poisoning her relationship with her father when she is 12. The second section focuses on Johnson's brief but intense relationship with her first husband, the painter James Johnson, whose early death left her a widow at 27. He left his mark in many ways — from an appreciation that 'the difference between life and death... could hang on a few inches' to her last name. Finally, Johnson dissects her short-lived second marriage to artist Peter Pinchbeck and her growing awakening to her own self-worth. Shortly before she leaves him, Johnson thinks, 'How was it that I could be important enough to have my name in Newsweek, while at home I was little more than a housemaid?' Her deceptively simple prose cuts through the past, where 'memories settled on stuff like dust.' Photos. (On sale Apr. 26)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Lacking any agenda beyond the search for her own truth, Johnson's memoir is quietly successful — not quiet as in small, but as would be the ideal environment for rumination: uncluttered, well lighted, a high remove offering the benefits of perspective." Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review
"Unlike so many memoirs in which authors repay the real or imagined grievances inflicted upon them by others, in Missing Men Joyce Johnson reaches out to all these complicated people and thanks them for what they gave her. It is a big-hearted, commonsensical, thoroughly adult book." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"Perceptive, engaging....A memoir of easy grace and lively intelligence, filled with striking portraits of individuals, a time, and a place." Kirkus Reviews
"Johnson's astute, witty, and mesmerizing memoir, a tale of romance, grief, and resilience, is radiant with compassion and rich in wonder at life's unpredictable demands." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"What emerges from these reminiscences is another remarkable story of loss and survival, just as intriguing as Johnson's previous memoir. When read together, the two memoirs offer a portrait of a woman interested in both creating and inspiring art. Highly recommended." Library Journal
The author of Minor Characters provides an even more revelatory self-portrait as she examines — from a unique woman's perspective — the far-reaching reverberations of fatherlessness. 25 photos.
A groundbreaking new biography of Jack Kerouac from the author of the award-winning memoir Minor Characters
Joyce Johnson brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend in this compelling new book. Tracking Kerouacs development from his boyhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, through his fateful encounters with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and John Clellon Holmes to his periods of solitude and the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in his composition of On the Road followed by Visions of Cody, Johnson shows how his French Canadian background drove him to forge a voice that could contain his dualities and informed his unique outsiders vision of America. This revelatory portrait deepens our understanding of a man whose life and work hold an enduring place in both popular culture and literary history.
A groundbreaking portrait of Kerouac as a young artist—from the award-winning author of Minor Characters
In The Voice is All, Joyce Johnson, author of her classic memoir, Door Wide Open, about her relationship with Jack Kerouac, brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend to show how, caught between two cultures and two languages, he forged a voice to contain his dualities. Looking more deeply than previous biographers into how Kerouac’s French Canadian background enriched his prose and gave him a unique outsider’s vision of America, she tracks his development from boyhood through the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in the composition of On the Road, followed by Visions of Cody. By illuminating Kerouac’s early choice to sacrifice everything to his work, The Voice Is All deals with him on his own terms and puts the tragic contradictions of his nature and his complex relationships into perspective.
About the Author
Joyce Johnson is the author of three novels, including In the Night Café. Her other books include Minor Characters, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957?1958. Her articles and fiction have been published in major magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Vanity Fair, and O Magazine.
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