Book Review: Beatitude
Reviewed by Genevieve Hartman
A moody, intimate novel following Harry and Jay as they discover a lasting relationship with each other, bonded by their mutual love for Jack Kerouac and the Beats
Set in New York City in 1995, Beatitude by Larry Closs tells the story of Harry Charity and Jay Bishop, two writers and Beats enthusiasts who happen to both work for Element magazine. The book opens with the pair on their way to witness the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
The next chapter mirrors On the Road’s opening line: “I first met Jay not long after the end of an affair that went awry.” From there, Harry and Jay’s friendship burgeons into a quintessentially New York kind of friendship–the same deli every day for lunch, an Allen Ginsberg reading at the MOMA, and countless other poetry slams and jazz performances in dive bars. As Harry’s feelings deepen, readers learn the painful story of Harry’s previous relationship, at the same time wondering whether Jay will choose his artistic girlfriend Zahra or wistful, attentive Harry.
In reading Beatitude, it’s immediately clear that Closs loves the Beats as much as Harry and Jay do. This book is a love letter to the Beat Generation, an homage to a bygone era. It’s thoughtfully written, nostalgic, and most of all, tender. By interspersing real people into careful descriptions of New York, Closs brings his imagined characters to life. It almost feels possible to step into this world of smoky bars and slowly dying print magazines.
Folks not well-versed in the Beats may find themselves needing to look up some backstory about Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg to truly understand the nuances of Beatitude. At the same time, the book contains a good deal of biographical exposition about the trio, and the story bows a bit under that weight. It’s hard to walk the line of how much background is enough and how much is too much.
And yet, despite all this, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to not be caught up in the almost worshipful fervor that Harry, Jay, and Closs share when it comes to the Beats. When Harry thrills to find a hardcover first edition of On the Road, readers, too, are caught up in the moment of glory. And when Harry and Jay see Ginsberg in person for the first time, readers, too, bask in the presence of a great poetic mind.
What Closs has accomplished in Beatitude is a story that expertly straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction and carries the same genes and underpinnings as a Kerouac novel. For those who want a heartfelt, human look into the complexities of friendship and love, this book is an excellent choice. For those who love the Beats, this book is a treasure trove.
Publisher: Rebel Satori Press
Genre: Literary & General Fiction / LGBTQ+
Print Length: 282 pages
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