Reviews

Troia: Mexican Memoirs

Michael Hayward

If there is a dark side to Jack Kerouac’s success, it is that he inspired thousands of people to believe if one simply stood beside the nearest interstate with a backpack at one’s feet and a thumb extended, a life filled with madcap adventures and close encounters with like-minded compagnons de route who blazed like roman candles would inevitably follow. Writing was little more than recording one’s thoughts and adventures in a handy pocket notebook, and the more exclamation marks the better; the blunter realities of a hardscrabble “bohemian” existence were left for unwary readers to discover for themselves. Bonnie Bremser read On the Road not long after it was published in 1957 and immediately “felt something was happening and wanted to be a part of it”; she soon got her wish, and the “beat” life that Bremser describes in Troia: Mexican Memoirs (Dalkey Archive) was as far from an idyll as can be imagined. In March 1959, Bremser (then Brenda Frazer) married Ray Bremser, a poet and convicted armed robber, just weeks after meeting him at a poetry reading in Washington, D.C. Within a year the pair were down and out in Mexico with their infant daughter Rachel; Troia describes Bremser’s fitful efforts to scrape money together, turning tricks and hustling among the “Mexcity low life, milling no-goods of the streets,” while Ray wrote poetry. Despite its uneven quality, Troia is a key piece in the Beat Generation jigsaw, from (in the words of the historian Ann Charters) “the only woman in the Beat group who had actually lived on the edge and come back to write a heartfelt book about [those years].”

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