For two years in the late fifties, Joyce Johnson (then Glassman) sort of lived with (but mostly waited for) Jack Kerouac. This is a book about that, but it also about so much more. It’s about what it’s like to a be a cautious, somewhat shy girl drawn towards people you think are glittering and more interesting than yourself. It’s about moving out into a city and building/finding/stumbling into a life for yourself. And it’s about writing and reading and the importance that books and poems can have for you while you’re doing this.
The title is a reference to the fact that in all the great Beat novels (not the least of which On the Road, which was published while Jack was living with Joyce) the women are almost interchangeable. One writer called them “centerless.” Joyce grapples with her complicated feelings about being cast as a minor character (in Desolation Angels, which I have not yet read). She takes the Beats to task for their seeming inability to include women in the camaraderie that they all credited for the brilliance of their work, but she manages to do this without bitterness. She loved Jack, and with 20 years distance from their relationship, can see the way that she fell into the role he cast her in without blaming. If anything she’s thankful both for their time together and the fact that it ended.
“There are books that serve as mirrors in which one catches reflections of oneself,” Joyce writes at one point in Minor Characters, I think about her male friend Alex’s response to Go by John Clellon Holmes. That’s what this book was for me. It hit almost too close to home at points, I highly recommend it.