Go by John Clellon Holmes is a book I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf since picking up a copy of the 1977 hardcover reprint edition at the Strand Bookstore in ’78 or ’79. I didn’t read it right away because I guess I thought is was just “lesser” Kerouac rather than a novel that provided a totally new viewpoint of the Beat Generation immortals. Kerouac (Gene Pasternak) and Neal Cassady (Hart Kennedy) disappear for sections on their road trips; we don’t see them on the road and on the west coast, but they are always in the conversation and they become major characters when they return to Manhattan where Holmes (Paul Hobbes) and Allen Ginsberg (David Stofsky) and others are waiting for them.
Go, which was published in 1952 before On the Road and is famously the first book to use the term “Beat Generation,” is a glossary of other slang from the period as well. “Go!” itself is Hart Kennedy’s catchphrase and in another place Hobbes mansplains at length the meaning of the new term “Cool” to a young romantic interest; Hobbes has a pedantic side that would mansplain “mansplaining” to a young romantic interest if he were writing a roman à clef about 2015 New York rather than late forties New York — a city where young men and women are smoking marijuana and listening to bebop in wild parties and older New Yorkers are still seen on the street in bowlers and spats.
Kathryn Hobbes, Paul’s wife, is a strong character throughout the book (as are more of the women than in a typical Kerouac novel), and she puts the Beat Generation in its place when she says to her husband about the legendary free-spirit Hart Kennedy, who is smoking pot, sleeping late, and chasing other women in New York while his travelling companion Dinah (LuAnne Henderson) is supporting him: “Sure,” Kathryn says, “He doesn’t want to lose her salary. Oh, he cares about those things, no matter what he says! But does he get a job? It’s been two weeks and I’ll bet he hasn’t even been looking. That’s the beat generation for you.”
I’d wholeheartedly recommend Holmes’ novel to anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of the Beats. It’s as if Jack and Neal had a sane friend who was staying home, taking notes, and willing to face a few of the hard truths they (and many of us, their readers) were trying hard and running fast to avoid.