She appears in Kerouac’s novel “Desolation Angels” as Alyce Newman: “Old Alyce said: ‘I s’pose you’re going to be a big literary god and everybody’s going to eat you up, so you should let me protect you.’ ” Glassman was one of the few women who would let Kerouac in when he was soused; she listened to his drunken monologues while she fixed him vegetable soup, and he’d pass out with his head in his plate, and in the morning he’d be off to Mexico.
After her first novel, she did not publish a book again until 1978. She married the abstract painter James Johnson, who was killed in a motorcycle accident, and then she married the painter Peter Pinchbeck, whom she later divorced. Her second novel, “Bad Connections,” was bylined Joyce Johnson. The main character, Molly, says, “I have always been too faithful to the illusions of others.”
In 1983, her first memoir, “Minor Characters: A Young Woman’s Coming of Age in the Beat Orbit of Jack Kerouac,”brought attention to the role that women played in the beat movement; it won a National Book Critics Circle award. This was followed by “Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958” in 2000, and “Missing Men: A Memoir” in 2005.
The present volume, “The Voice Is All,” weighs in at 489 pages and ends rather abruptly in 1951, when Kerouac was 29. I wondered whether the author was planning a sequel, and then I thought, probably not, that’s not what she’s interested in — she doesn’t feel the need to recount his downward spiral for the umpteenth time. Johnson had access to a huge trove of Kerouac material deposited in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. She takes us through the familiar early life: the Canadian kid raised in Lowell, Mass., by a grotesque mother and a father of the vacillating go-getter type. The Catholic upbringing, in which the habit of confession may have led to a need for self-expression. Football gets him to New York, to Horace Mann and Columbia. And then the jitterbug era sets in, he can’t sit still, he ships out with the Merchant Marine, he takes off on the road, carrying a knapsack and a spiral notebook, discovering America, going through his starving-writer period.