Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On the Road by Jack Kerouac - Book Review #116

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
On the Road
by Jack Kerouac

On September 5, 1957, Viking published Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. Few books have had as profound an impact on American culture. Pulsating with rhythms of late 1940s/1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac's classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be "Beat" and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event "set them free."

Based on Kerouac's adventures with Neal Cassady, On the Road tells the story of two friends whose four cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naïveté and wild abandon, and imbued with Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.

Freedom, open road, the wind on your face, hair flying back, new cities, new people, new experiences, new adventures – sounds good, right? Three wives left penniless, countless children scattered all over the US, grown man running to his elder aunt for another fifty bucks over and over again, destroyed lives, broken hearts and all for kicks – sounds not too good.

I have a mixed feeling about this book. Somehow I’m certain that I would love On the Road if I would have read it when I was sixteen and so, I would have stayed devoted to it though all my live. But I haven’t read it at sixteen, I read it some years later and now I couldn’t help but notice more than just a freedom of the road; I couldn’t help but notice all the ugly things.

On the Road is probably the only book whose characters I truly hated. Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady) – a self-centered, chauvinistic pig, who doesn’t have a shred of respect, who doesn’t care about anything or anyone; the only thing that he cares about is kicks. And this character is a role model for generations and generations of men? It’s utterly disgusting. Sal Paradise (aka Jack Kerouac) – a wuss and a wimp; coward, looser and sissy, who can only tag alone with Dean Moriarty and admire him, while the second one is spitting on him; who is forgiving everything to the pig - Dean Moriarty, just to see what other kicks he can come up with; and when the situation is hard and money all gone, Sal Paradise doesn’t know any better than to run to his aunt for help. Some men, some role models, huh?

Despite the fact that I hated all characters, I have to admit that initial idea of freedom, new experiences and adventures, does sound appealing. Truman Capote once commented about On the Road: "That isn't writing; it's typing." However, I think that Kerouac’s “typing” style worked out good for the subject matter – the road. The road, same as Kerouac’s style doesn’t have a plot, it only has incidents and accidents; the road doesn’t have the beginning and doesn’t have the end; it doesn’t have any distinct direction – you are the one who has to choose it. The road just exists from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can reach.

In conclusion, if Kerouac’s On the Road “is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope”, I don’t want to do anything with this freedom and I want to live my life without such hope.


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