On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the RoadThis review contains spoilers.

“… the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”

 

On The Road, by Jack Kerouac is a picaresque novel set between 1946 and 1950. I understand that it is based on some of Kerouac’s real life experiences with Neal Cassady. Although I haven’t read any biographies, I know he was also friends with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Since I’m unfamiliar with his life, I’ll focus my comments strictly on the novel.

It is divided into five parts and written in first person past. The novel tells the story of the friendship between Sal Paradise, a New York (New Jersey) writer and his friend Dean Moriarty. Starting as it does just after World War II, Sal is a former G.I. who has also been married once.

He hangs out with his young, intellectual friends, but is determined at some point to get out on the road and see the country. Like a lot of youth in all different time periods, Sal is anxious to play around and become a part of the scene. The particular scene at this point in time consists of bars, jazz clubs, steamy Negro night clubs, and lots of booze and grass.

Dean is high-level bullshit artist who is half-crazy. From Denver, he spent a fair amount of his youth traveling with his father, who is a bum, and in reform school for stealing cars. Sal is attracted to him right away and they strike up a friendship as they travel back and forth across the country.

The brief plot involves Dean’s mad dash between women, most notably Marylou in Denver, whom he marries, Camille in San Francisco, whom he divorces Marylou to marry. They have two children. Eventually, he divorces Camille to marry Inez in New York, though he abandons her to live with Camille. Another plot element is the intensity of the parties that these guys and their friends have, growing crazier and crazier until Dean finally abandons a feverish Sal in Mexico City.

I can tell that I’ve grown old because there are many things in this novel that I loved when I was young and that I now find abhorrent. One, of course, is the treatment of women. Dean treats them like garbage and even Sal agrees that the perfect woman is one who simply lies there and tolerates the “gone” behavior of their men with a smile. All of Dean’s women seem to mature far beyond Dean, yet they tolerate his behavior.

Dean is one of the least admirable anti-heroes I’ve ever read. He is a self-centered thief and con man who doesn’t care even the tiniest bit for anyone that he hurts–and ultimately, he hurts everyone, including Sal. I’m down with a certain amount of drinking and drug use, but stealing one car after another, wrecking cars he’s been entrusted with, going through one woman after another with no concern for any of them, recklessly placing the lives of his friends in jeopardy, abandoning his friends, I can’t understand any of that. Nor can I understand why and how Sal still loves him at the end of the book. 

As far as telling a story, the books pretty much tells the same story over and over till the last page. There is no real character development and book doesn’t seem to have much to say, except this: take chances with your life and do not settle for a life unlived.

Although there are big sections of the book that are poorly written, there are also sections that absolutely sing with life. The long passages cobbled together with all kinds of metaphors sometimes achieve a roll and pitch that makes them almost musical and takes the book to a whole new level.

A brief note on the movie that was released a few years ago starring Kristen Stewart as Marylou. The film takes the story of the book and alters it in such a way that it clashes severely. One example of this is that homosexuality is severely looked down on the book, yet it is an important part of the movie. In the book, homosexuals are routinely referred to as “fags” and “queers,” yet the movie makes Carlo Marx homosexual and Dean a bi-sexual, yet he’s supposed to hate the “queers” more than anyone else. The great parts of the book are completely ignored in the film and it is really just a two hour orgy of sex and drugs. Not at all worth seeing. Read the book.

Book Reviews by Author: A – M

Alcott, Luisa MayLuisa May Alcott

(November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

Friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, Ms. Alcott had to work to help support her family, and like Jane Austen before her, she spun stories for her supper. Well known for her one transcendent novel, she also contributed sequels to the well-loved classic.

Little WomenLittle Women Norton Critical Edition

This is the story of four American sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, during and just following the Civil War.  Shepherded by their mother (Marmee), they become friends with their neighbors, Mr. Laurence and his grandson, Teddy (Laurie).  The book follows their lives, as well as various men they become involved with, but the book is concentrated in the person of Jo, the bookish second daughter, who is fifteen at the beginning of the story.


Isaac Asimov

Foundation


Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Sanditon and Other Stories


Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre


Truman Capote

In Cold Blood


Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game


Arthur C. Clarke

The Songs of Distant Earth


Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games


Deborah Kay Davies

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful


Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time


Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer


John Fowles

The Collector


Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust


Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn


Katelan Janke

Survival in the Storm:

The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards


Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You


Rebecca Kanner

The Sinners and the Sea


Jack Kerouac

On The Road


Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams


Ron Koertge

Stoner & Spaz


Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird


Billie Letts

Where The Heart Is


Anne McCaffrey

An Introduction to the World of Pern

Dragonsdawn

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The White Dragon


The Harper Hall Trilogy

Dragonsong

Dragonsinger

Dragondrums


The Renegades of Pern


All the Weyrs of Pern


Jack McDevitt

The Academy Novels

An Introduction to the Series

The Engines of God

Deepsix

Chindi