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The Beat Goes On: Saga of Kerouac's Estate

June 16, 1999|RENEE TAWA

In the end it's not about who gets what cut of Jack Kerouac's $10-million estate: the manipulative biographer who never met Kerouac; the nephew with an alcoholic, homeless past; or the son-in-law/New Age writer.

"Use My Name: Jack Kerouac's Forgotten Families" (ECW Press, 1999) takes a detailed look at the sad, seedy fight for the beat writer's estate, which includes his papers and unpublished works. A lawsuit over the estate was filed in 1994, but wrangling among the key players had gone on for years. Author Jim Jones, who teaches American literature at Southwest Missouri State University, knows and explains the key players and their motivations.

Jones also writes about Kerouac's extended family, including his three wives and late daughter, Jan Kerouac. Jan Kerouac had only two brief encounters with her father. "Use My Name" gets its title from one of their exchanges.

Jan Kerouac was 15, pregnant and running off to Mexico when she stopped by to see her father in Lowell, Mass. By then, Kerouac was famous for his classic book, "On the Road."

She planned to write a book with her boyfriend, whom she eventually married, and her father told her to "use my name" if it would help. Years later, Jan Kerouac thought it might too.

Jan Kerouac, an ex-prostitute turned writer, died at 44 in June 1996, before a lawsuit she filed over his estate was resolved. (The battle continues with other parties.) She had been fighting kidney disease and spent her last years trying to attach herself to her father's name. Jones describes her as a talented, charming, needy, suicidal, promiscuous, spotlight-seeking woman who hadn't read most of her father's books.

Jones is not dispassionate in his account--at one point, Jan Kerouac had agreed to make him her biographer but then reneged, for unclear reasons. Still, Jones presents a fair account of her struggle for what ultimately wasn't about money at all but for an identity and connection she had sought all her life.

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