On the Road

On the Road  by Jack Kerouac is one of those books I’ve always felt I ought to read, simply because it’s representative of a whole era that I’ve not read much about. Now that I’ve read it, I can appreciate the art behind it, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it. This novel about Sal Paradise’s journeys around the U.S., often in the company of “holy goof” Dean Moriarty was not something I could relate to at all, and it certainly did not awaken in me any dream of dropping everything and hitting the road.

The long sentences and paragraphs propel the reader along, leaving little time for reflection upon what happens. This style makes for compelling reading, but after a while, I just found it exhausting. I wanted Sal to wake up and realize that the answers aren’t on the road. I wanted the long-suffering women in Dean’s life to stop allowing him to come back home. I wanted Sal to find a home and stay there. (I wanted the same for Dean, but he just seemed incorrigible and beyond help.)

That said, there are some marvelous descriptions in the book, and Kerouac’s style beautifully captures the feeling of being swept up in the time and the surroundings, as in this description of the musicians performing in a San Francisco saloon:

Boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattley-boom! A big fat man was jumping on the platform, making it sag and creak. “Yoo!” The pianist was only pounding the keys with spread-eagled fingers, chords, at intervals when the great tenorman was drawing breath for another blast–Chinese chords, shuddering the piano in every timber, chink, and wire, boing!

Can’t you just hear the music? To me, it’s passages like this that kept On the Road from being entirely annoying. I can’t help but admire the craftsmanship, even as I can’t admire or even respect the main characters.

This book is the second book I’ve completed for the 1% Well-Read Challenge.

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7 Responses to On the Road

  1. Pingback: Reading Challenges « Shelf Love

  2. Lightheaded says:

    I struggled reading this years ago and I completely get what you mean.

  3. Jenny says:

    I know this is limited of me, but I kind of find the Beat Generation irritating rather than appealing. I like Allen Ginsberg’s poetry better than I used to, but that’s about all I can say for it.

  4. Amanda says:

    This is one of my husband’s favorite books and I just couldn’t get it either. I read the whole thing, appreciated the fact that some people could like it…but I just didn’t . Maybe it’s different for guys who have that roaming, traveling, self-searching thing. Who knows. Good review!

  5. Teresa says:

    Lightheaded–This was a real mix between struggle and pleasure for me. I decided the best approach was just to absorb the mood and not worry about who’s who and where they are. :-)

    Jenny–You know, I rather like the small bit of Beat poetry that I’ve read. Not enough to seek out more, but the language sweeps me up. And that language is the best thing about On the Road.

    Amanda–I think we’re in a similar place. I could appreciate the art, but not really enjoy it. I don’t know if it’s more of a guy book or not–I have a few female friends who really like it, but it certainly seems like a guy-oriented book (particularly since all the female characters are so weak).

  6. Both times that I’ve read On the Road, I’ve had a fairly similar experience. Aspects of the book I can appreciate and create a sort of reader nostalgia. But the undeveloped female characters and the whole passage of “I wish I was black,” just reminds me that Kerouac was a privileged alcoholic that lived off of his aunt.

  7. Pingback: Enter your July/August reviews here : 1% Well-Read Challenge

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