On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than forty years ago.

I honestly went into this book with the expectation that I wouldn’t love it. It has always seemed too hipster (isn’t this the bible of hipsters everywhere?) and most people I know that read it weren’t overly impressed.

In the end, I did like this book. It was different than what I expected. It actually covers four different roadtrips across America and into Mexico (I thought there was only one). I enjoyed Sal’s first roadtrip to Denver and on to San Francisco and his last one into Mexico.

The book covers a period of years, which is interesting because it allows you to see the members of Sal and Dean’s original friend group “growing up” e.g. getting married, having kids, and working a steady job. Oddly enough, Sal is the last one to get married and isn’t even married at the end.

Did anyone else who read this book think Dean might be a little bipolar? It’s hard to tell with Sal as our first-person narrator. He doesn’t seem to chronicle any low periods (if they are there), but there was an awful lot of manic highs, especially with the Dean declares his love for one woman only to turn around and run off after another, declaring that one the love of his life.

On the Road chronicles a picture of a more “innocent” America, where hitchhiking was common-place. I especially liked the contrast of the guys going down into Mexico at this time. There are vestiges of the US-Mexico relationship as it is today, but by and large, it is much more amicable. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you’ve probably gathered that I very much dislike the prejudice against Mexicans that exists today. I don’t want to discuss the politics at all, I merely bring it up because this section of this book very much got to me as a reader because it defines a time and status quo I wish still existed.

Is Jack Kerouac a great writer? Yes. There are most definitely some standout passages in this novel. Is the writing kind of clumsy elsewhere? To the extent that there’s a lot of direct dialogue and if you listen to how people talk, you realize that ninety percent of what they’re saying is filler with about ten percent content.

Have you read this book? What did you think? And the 64 million dollar question, what do you think of the casting for the upcoming movie?

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