On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Title: On the Road
Author: Jack Kerouac
Originally Published: 1957
Format I Read: Hardback
I originally gave this book two stars on goodreads, just moments after I finished it. I was rather disgusted with it. But, in the ensuing days, the book stuck with me and won itself an additional star. Let’s start with what I didn’t like.
Lack of plot – Um, yeah. The plot is essentially that Sal Paradise travels about the country with a variety of ill-mannered friends, including one Dean Moriarty. But that is it. There is no more to it than that.
Despicable characters – The characters in this book! They are despicable. They commit petty (steal gas and food) and not-so-petty (rape a “simple” girl) crimes. They have no respect for other people or their property (they completely destroy a car they were trusted to drive to Chicago). They do drugs and abandon responsibilities (they walk away from wives and children). If this is, as it is repeatedly toted, THE book of the beat generation, then I am supremely glad to have missed it.
Choppy writing – Other than a few great descriptions, the writing is mostly ho-hum and often choppy and disjointed. There is no flow to this book. I literally had to force myself to finish it. My natural inclination was to abandon ship after about 100 pages.
The evocation of an era – the saving grace of On the Road, in my eyes, is its rather fascinating encapsulation of a generation. Of a lifestyle. This “beat” generation was a bit of a lost generation, coming as it did on the heels of the greatest generation and two world wars. There is no denying that it is iconic for that reason. I there is something about the feeling it evokes.
Excellent descriptions – usually in one or two sentence bits here and there.
But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” What did they call such young people in Goethe’s Germany? (5-6)
. . . I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion. (127)
Now you just dig them in front. They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there–and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see. (212)
Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. (215)
What’s your road, man?–holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. (255)
Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again. (263)
Unfortunately, for me anyway, the cons outweighed the pros. The second quote kind of sums it up for me: “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.” At the end of the day, I’m glad I read this. But I can’t say that I wholly enjoyed the journey.
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac [rating:3]
Have you read or reviewed this book too? Feel free to jump in with your thoughts or leave a link to your review in the comments.