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Friday, October 7, 2011

On the Road--Jack Kerouac

I have long avoided On the Road--for a variety of reasons.  For one, there is Truman Capote's famous gloss, "That's not writing, that's typing."  Second, there has been entirely too much said and written about the work so that it is nearly impossible to read without all of the baggage.  And third, the several times I tried it, I simply wasn't hooked, I found it overwritten and simplistic.

Now I've attempted the work and I have to say that there is the phantom of my third reason lingering in my head.  The prose is hopped up, perfervid, and overdosed.  There are entire passage in which it is nearly impossible to make out what Kerouac is trying to convey--and I get the suspicion if I could make it out, I probably wouldn't care for it any more than I do the surrounding prose I comprehend.

On the Road is a nightmare of a book--four interminable trips with people who don't know what they want, don't know how to get it, and don't know where to look for it, so they try looking everywhere.  In the course of criss-crossing the country, Kerouac and team leave devastation in their wake--destroyed cars, destroyed homes, destroyed lives.  All in search of some salvation that seems, for Kerouac, to come out of the end of the horn, and through benzedrine, the effects of which are prominently displayed in the writing here.

There are moments of poetry, quiet, and beauty.  There are moments of great prose and insight.  But frankly, it just isn't worth sifting through the tons of overwrought prose to find them.

The work is a milestone in literature--it might be worth reading for that alone.  It was the bible of those who caused a sea-change in American culture--both for better and for worse--so it may be worthwhile to understand one of the mainstays of that group.  However, as a standalone work of literature--as a piece of rewarding reading in itself, I would probably say that it is very much a matter of one's taste--I could see some people really, really enjoying this.  I will say that despite what I found lacking in it, I did not have difficulty finishing the work--it just isn't much to my liking.

***1/2

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