On the Road – Jack Kerouac.
I have come to the conclusion that there are certain books that you can only really love and appreciate at a certain age and this is one of them. I’m begging all of you to read this before you hit thirty. This along with Catcher in the Rye and Perks of being a Wallflower are books that lose their charm once you’ve experienced adulthood, which is why I’m so glad I was inspired to read this before I get too old to appreciate it.
On The Road swings to the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, generosity, chill dawns and drugs, with Sal Paradise and his hero Dean Moriarty, traveller and mystic, the living epitome of Beat. Now recognized as a modern classic, Kerouac’s American Dream is nearer that of Walt Whitman than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, and the narrative goes racing towards the sunset with unforgettable exuberance, poignancy and passion.
On the Road isn’t for everyone.
If you’re young, full of wanderlust, grandiose ideas and longing for experience you’ll love it, if you’re not, well, I can see why you’d hate it.
It’s rambly, almost stream of consciousness, barely grammatical style is both charming and grating, but it has that something, the same way Catcher in the Rye has that something that draws you in and keeps you captive.
I only sought this out because of the release of Kill Your Darlings, which I’ve still yet to watch. I’ve never really paid any attention to the Beat Generation before, instead placing my affections with the writers of the jazz age, but hearing about Kill Your Darlings and the escapades of the Beat Generation has opened up a new level to my TBR list. On the Road is fantastic and I’m so annoyed no one thought to tell me this sooner.
Like I said, the narrative style is a bit like marmite, you’re either going to love it or hate it and I’m in no way surprised so many people on Goodreads rate it so low. Just a note on the prose, while we’re on the subject, this was written in the fifties, so the language might be a bit lost on people, which again I can understand hindering the enjoyment. Also I feel there should probably be a few trigger warnings for racism, sexism and homophobia, like I said fifties America. Though the vague homophobia is kind of ironic considering Sal’s near obsession with Dean and Dean’s very explicit bisexuality. It’s a book for people who are young, naive and looking for adventure, it is a book for introverts clinging bravely to an extroverts coat tails. I can completely understand why people would think this book is a bit… Well, pointless. Sal and co spend the entire time searching for something they’re not even sure exists. They want adventure and chase the grass is greener mentality without ever being sure what it is they are looking for. This could be seen as being frustrating for some, but for me, I thought it captured restlessness perfectly.
As for the characters, we all have a friend like Dean Moriarty, a larger than life whirlwind you’re drawn to who takes you out of your comfort zone and always seems to be in the centre of something awfully exciting. I get the feeling that although Jack Kerouac based Dean on his friend Neal Cassidy and the narrater, Sal, on himself, he secretly wants to be Dean. We all, deep down, want to be Dean, but feel like Sal.
For me, being a writer with friends like Dean, I found the whole thing very relatable and with each passing page, I fell deeper in love with this book and wished ardently that I’d read it as a teenager. I spent my time switching between idolising Dean as Sal does, being terrified of Dean’s mental state and wishing I were Dean. The guy can barely sit still for more than five minutes, I kept thinking he was going to have a breakdown or something.
I’m in no way turning my back on the likes of Fitz and Hem, but I’m certainly opening my heart to Kerouac, Burroughs and Huxley after reading this. Honestly, this book makes me want to hire a car and drive through the US desert eating nothing but pie, drinking nothing but pepsi max and having nothing on my person but a passport, a fistful of dollars and a moth eaten copy of On the Road, just for when I get lonely.
This gets the Nick Fury Seal of Approval. I didn’t realise this until just now when stealing the blurb from goodreads, but there are two versions of this novel. He turns out I have the ‘original’ unedited, extended version that was cut for its original release due to the fact that Dean’s into casual sex with anyone that’ll have him. While I’m sure the same enjoyment will come out of either copy, for the full unbridled experience, go for the unedited one if you can find it.