Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

I've had an old copy of this hanging out on my bookshelves for at least the last five years, since before the hubby and I relocated here to NC. Well, I noticed the other day that there's a new edition out celebrating the 50-yr anniversary of its being published. What better reason to give it a go, as the lead characters might say?

Well, now that I'm done, I think I needed a better reason. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the age of the piece, maybe it's none of the above, but "On the Road" read like so much rambling in my mind. There really isn't a plot to speak of; it's mostly the goings-on of a few "beat" characters, the two leads being Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. (After reading the intro, I learned that Dean is loosely based on Neal Cassady and Sal on the Kerouac himself). The book is really just vignettes of their lives when they happen to overlap, most of which occurs in an automobile.

As a former student of the literary world, I'm just sort of dumb-founded that this is considered a great work. I don't know that I would go as far as Truman Capote, who is quoted in the into as having said that it's not literature, it's just typing. I did feel that Kerouac was trying to get something across to me, his reader. I just don't know what it was/is. The characters aren't particularly sympathetic, especially not Dean, who has a tendency to love 'em and leave 'em and I'm not just talking about the women here. At one point he has had three wives, has had children with all of them (if memory serves correctly), and decides to go back to living with wife #2 shortly after marrying wife #3. What a guy! He also leaves Sal, his good friend Sal who is like a brother, lying in Mexico with dysentery. Again, what a guy! He steals cars, drinks like the proverbial fish, smokes a lot of pot, and for some reason I was never able to fathom, sweats all the time. Not the sort of cat I'd want to hang with, man! The only thing that rang true was a description about half-way through the book about the Lone Star State. Dean says "You drive and drive and you're still in Texas tomorrow night." THAT I could relate to, having driven that route going across Texas from side-to-side. It takes forever.

Oh well. I'll let you in a little secret - not all "great literature" is really great literature. Oh, there are professors and scholars who will disagree, I'm sure, and that's fine, it's their careers they're thinking of, hopefully. But to me, "great literature" is something that can not only stand the test of time, but can also appeal to the masses. I just don't feel either one is true with "On the Road".

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