Book: On the Road Author: Jack Kerouac Published: First published 1957
|Summary (From Penguin Books):
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road rocked the establishment with its seminal, stream-of-consciousness portrayal of 1950’s underground America. Amidst a whirlwind of sex, drugs and jazz, writer Sal Paradise and his hero ‘the holy con-man with the shining mind’, Dean Moriarty traverse the country in search of life and experience. Wild and exuberant, this life-changing novel defined the Beat generation and inspired countless others.
To be totally honest, I really struggled to get through this book. I felt like the characters didn’t even know what they were doing half the time, so how the hell was I supposed to understand them. I was genuinely exhausted by the time I finished. That being said, I fully appreciate why this story is considered such a classic.
On the Road is a fictionalised account of Jack Kerouac’s actual adventure through the United States during the ’50s, and it captures perfectly the dissociation from society that was felt by the ‘Beat Generation’, which in turn influenced the powerful cultural and sexual revolutions of the 60s. This feeling of disillusionment with the expectations of society is one that is still very much present in today’s world, and one that I can personally relate to especially well right now. The style of Kerouac’s writing too, deviates from the traditional. He called the technique ‘ spontaneous prose’, and it essentially consists of a non-linear mess of thoughts being dumped onto the page. While this can make some parts of the story difficult to understand, it makes for a more relatable account of life on the road, and the experience of the “broken-down heroes of the Western night”.
While I dig Sal’s friends and their adventures, and have a special fondness for the holy con-man himself, Dean Moriarty; my favourite parts of the story are the times when Sal is by himself on the great, wide open road. His quiet contemplation of life is that of a true intellectual, and I love that he struggles with his loneliness, often in spite of being surrounded by other people. I do feel though that he clings to Dean quite desperately, despite Dean abandoning both Sal and his various wives on multiple occasions throughout the story. I think that’s a huge part of what makes this story worth the effort of getting through it. Despite Dean’s abundance of flaws, and how much he annoys and confuses the other characters, he draws people in so deeply that they can never stay away, and in fact Sal refers at one point to the female characters looking at Dean “they way a mother looks at the dearest and most errant child” even as they berate him for his out of control behaviour.
On the Road truly encapsulates the feelings of youth in revolt, and its story will continue to ensnare readers with its relatable characters and refreshing writing style. Although it can be hard to read at times, it is a true classic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
On the Road is available at all good bookstores