Saturday, August 14, 2004

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I both liked it and didn’t like it. There were parts that were outstanding, where the prose was crisp and real and put you exactly where you needed to be to understand the scene and the characters in it. But overall it left me wanting.

Okay, I know I know next to nothing about the beat generation and the post-war world of disillusionment in which the book was written. But is there anything that makes Sal feel sad or remorseful? Does he want to do anything with his life except bum around and get high? For the first part of the book I was convinced we were never going to hear any women in the story speak. They were referred to, but never given voice or center stage. Then Sal meets Terri, and I think the change has come. But he goes off, spinning in a new direction which is really the same old direction he is always spinning in. He’s reminded of Terri a couple more times in his travels, but the memory has little regret and no real fondness. The two great unspokens in the book are Sal’s wife, who we never meet or learn anything about, not even her name, and his time in the Navy during the war, of which we learn only one detail more--that he remembers what it was like lying in his bunk below deck while the ocean slipped away beneath him.

Then there’s the trip to Mexico near the end of the book, which I am sure is going to lead to their violent and messy ends, only to hear it turn into the biggest drug orgy in the whole sorry tale. The end is an anticlimax to say the least. Looking back on his time on the road, Sal sometimes thinks of Dean Moriarty, thinks of old Dean Moriarty. It reminded me a little of Catch-22. I’m glad I read it, but wasn’t sure I would be while I was reading it. Unlike Catch-22, however, I don’t think I want to read On the Road again.

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