Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Road

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

For Adam's Beats of Summer event, I wanted to do a re-read of On the Road.  I haven't read it in over 15 years, I kind of enjoyed it before, and I had already read Dharma Bums earlier this year. Adam just did a profile of Jack Kerouac, so go take a look!

Kerouac wrote several of these autobiographical novels in which he set down his impressions of various adventures--together he called them The Duluoz Legend.  He changed everyone's names, and I'm sure he also made changes for narrative purposes.  On the Road takes place in the late 1940s, and Kerouac kept notes for a long time and then wrote the book all at once in 1951.  It wasn't published until 6 years later.

In the story, Kerouac calls himself Sal Paradise.  The other main focus is Dean Moriarty, a charismatic and completely iconoclastic guy who likes to talk a lot.  Sal wants to head west, join Dean, and see the country.  He hitch-hikes and gets rides, and meets all kinds of people.  Over several years, Sal periodically takes off and finds his way across the US--he visits people in San Francisco, Denver, all over, and finally even goes down to Mexico.  Sometimes he travels with Dean, and sometimes not.

Much of the time, Sal acts as an almost neutral observer, especially around Dean.  He doesn't always say a lot about what he's doing himself unless he's really on his own, as when he lives in a tent with a girl and picks cotton for a living.  If there are other people around, he'll talk about what they're doing.  Dean takes over quite often; he's that kind of person.  He talks a lot, moves all the time, gets all excited about everything.  Sal describes him as a sort of amoral roadly saint, an innocent living on the edges of society who just does whatever he feels like doing--a "holy goof."  At the same time, nobody can put up with Dean for very long, even his various wives and girlfriends.  Even Sal gets mad at him.  Dean's talk is all wonder and sympathy for the people they meet, but his actions are completely self-centered. (I've known some holy goofs, but Dean takes the cake for impossibility to live with.)

I like reading Kerouac's writing when he's feeling good.  He just seems to find everyone interesting, and I like how he doesn't talk about himself all that much.  Later on, the novel gets darker and he's feeling a lot less hope and it's not so fun.  On the whole, I think I prefer Dharma Bums.

I wish he wouldn't call San Fransicso Frisco, but maybe it was cool then.

Poking around for an image of the book, I just found out that somebody made a MOVIE of On the Road last year.  That's kind of strange, isn't it?  Has anyone seen it?  What could a movie possibly look like?  Good golly, it had a fancy cast--Kirsten Dunst played Camille, and Kristen Stewart was Marylou, and Viggo Mortensen was in it!  Odd.

I still have a few weeks left of the event, so I want to take a look at a book I have about the women of the Beat movement.  That should be interesting.


Monika said...

I haven't read Kerouac yet but this is such an iconic book. It's on my TBR list!

Roof Beam Reader said...

"I like reading Kerouac's writing when he's feeling good. He just seems to find everyone interesting..."

This is an element of Kerouac (and the Beats) that I, too, respond well to. I think it's part of that "exploration of the mystic" that they have going on - searching for universal truths and connections, etc. I dig it.

Shelley said...

I'll have to try Dharma Bums. In On the Road I felt glimpses of good writing but not enough to really captivate me. I liked Sal, but Dean drove me nuts!