I spent about eight weeks reading Kerouac’s On the Road. Normally I’m a quick reader, but a few factors made it really hard for me to finish this book.
On the Road is the defining book of the Beat Generation, and is considered one of the best American works of fiction, which is why it was on my 20before20 list. Kerouac recounts the wanderings of Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty from New York to San Francisco, from Chicago to Mexico City. They have long drives, wild nights, and meet a cross-section of American society. “Dean will leave you out in the cold anytime it is in the interest of him,” one of Dean’s wives warns Sal, but Sal continues hounding Dean as Dean steals cars, plays women, and mooches money, tearing across the continent. Sal begins to pull away as Dean’s life becomes more and more frenzied, until finally Sal leaves Dean, broke-down and impoverished, on the streets of New York.
I loved Kerouac’s style of writing, and I loved parts of this book as scenes, I just had trouble reading the whole book through. It seemed like an endless cycle of recklessness and movement. I feel like I received Kerouac’s view of his generation, concluding with Sal’s beautiful vision of America in the final pages, but that Kerouac and Sal never achieved any resolution. The traveling must eventually end, but neither are satisfied. Dean was not a good friend, but they still long for him to come back and whirl them away.
Any thoughts? Tell me what you think of Kerouac and the beat poets.
Up Next: I’m halfway through The Bell Jar, and getting a little woozy. The writers of the American ’50s and ’60s are not my favorites.