I’ve been meaning to give this one a read for a while now but have been too busy with other projects. When I found the time to finally start the book, I read through it in a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I didn’t know quite what to expect. The plot was summarized thusly:
New York City, 1995: Harry Charity is a sensitive young loner haunted by a disastrous affair when he meets Jay Bishop, an outgoing poet and former Marine. Propelled by a shared fascination with the unfettered lives of Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, the two are irresistibly drawn together, even as Jay’s girlfriend, Zahra, senses something deeper developing.
Reveling in their discovery of the legendary scroll manuscript of Kerouac’s On the Road in the vaults of the New York Public Library, Harry and Jay embark on a nicotine-and-caffeine-fueled journey into New York’s smoky jazz joints, dusty rare-book shops and thriving poetry scene of slams and open-mike nights.
An encounter with “Howl” poet Allen Ginsberg shatters their notions of what it means to be Beat but ultimately and unexpectedly leads them into their own hearts where they’re forced to confront the same questions that confounded their heroes: What do you do when you fall for someone who can’t fall for you? What do you do when you’re the object of affection? What must you each give up to keep the other in your life?
Beatitude features two previously unpublished poems by Allen Ginsberg.
It sounded interesting (especially the Ginsberg poems), but had the potential to be boring. I have read too many essays about men who read Kerouac and go on a road trip.
But the book is complex, and artfully woven from a number of threads. Yes, there is the story of Harry and Jay, two men united by a love for Kerouac, but rather than have wild kicks in pursuit of their own On the Road experience, their Kerouac-connection is merely what binds them together. Their story is a classic tragedy. Harry loves Jay, but the love is unrequited. Jay’s sexuality appears – as did many of the Beats’ – somewhat fluid, whereas Harry is gay.
Their story winds along against that of Harry’s other failed shots at love, and the difficulties that are placed upon Jay’s girlfriend, Zahra, as the two men’s friendship unfolds.
Against this we have some Beat Generation history. The book kicks off with the “discovery” of one of Kerouac’s scrolls at the New York Public Library, back when it wasn’t constantly on tour. There’s a meeting with Allen Ginsberg, and reading the book, I couldn’t help but see a little of William Burroughs in Harry – from constantly putting himself into relationships where he knows he’ll get hurt, to his fondness of cats.
Read it for yourself. Available on Amazon.