Title: On the Road
Author: Jack Kerouac
Genre/Themes/Content Warnings: Modern Classic, Beatnik, Rebellion, Misogyny, Homophobia, Racism,
Blurb from Goodreads
When Jack Kerouac’s On the Road first appeared in 1957, readers instantly felt the beat of a new literary rhythm. A fictionalised account of his own journeys across America with his friend Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s beatnik odyssey captured the soul of a generation and changed the landscape of American fiction for ever.
Leaving a broken marriage behind him, Sal Paradise (Kerouac) joins Dean Moriarty (Cassady), a tearaway and former reform school boy, on a series of journeys that takes them from New York to San Francisco, then south to Mexico. Hitching rides and boarding buses, they enter a world of hobos and drifters, fruit-pickers and migrant families, small towns and wide horizons. Adrift from conventional society, they experience America in the raw: a place where living is hard, but ‘life is holy and every moment is precious’.
Can I request a lobotomy please? Something to chase this utter mess of a novel from my brain, rid my memory of this painful reading experience.
I mean I should have known better than to read this after one of my most trusted bookish friends read this and did not like it at all….
But I’m one of those people that will read any book that is on any of those 100 books to read before you die type lists so I don’t regret reading this because I can always say I have read Kerouac now.
I’m trying very hard to look at this book in a dispassionate manner. Because it is oh so very easy to have a knee jerk (and pretty violent) reaction to the saints and sluts portrayal of women. To not respond negatively to the feckless behaviours of the characters, Dean especially.
So if I set aside the casual racism, homophobia, utter misogyny and paedophilic tendencies that is rife within the pages of this book then what positive things can I say about it?
Well developed characters with interesting story arcs? Nope.
A plot that keeps ticking over nicely maintaining your interest? Also nope.
This is basically the wet dream of every white misogynistic, homophobic, racist male who dreams of being a rebel in only the way that someone with white privilege can.
Normally for a book to work for me it has to have either one of two things; a strong storyline or detailed, well rounded characters.
For me this had neither.
I can excuse the lack of plot because the whole point of this was the transitory nature of these characters. How they had to keep moving, meandering their way through existence without ever actually doing anything.
So then I look to characters. How did they feel to me? They were all caricature and no soul. The women especially.
But if I ignore the misogynistic way that women were portrayed and the double standards to which they were held, and look at the male characters as pure, unadulterated jerks then how well-developed do those jerks feel to me….
And I gotta say that they are almost as painfully flat and one-dimensional.
The leading male characters of Sal the narrator and his most frequent travelling companion Dean didn’t work as anti-heroes either.
The relationship between Sal and Dean was the main relationship of the book.
And for me Sal’s continued idolisation of Dean clouded the story too much. Basically Sal’s head was shoved so far up Dean’s butt that he couldn’t see all the other people around him; it prevented Sal’s narration from exploring the intricacies and personalities of the supporting characters.
And Dean himself was just idolised so much that he was essentially Sal’s manic dream pixie boy that existed on a plain separate to everyone else. And hilariously enough, for two such homophobic characters their relationship really was almost quasi romantic in its existence.
So at the end of the day I feel that there was nothing in this reading experience to reward my patience with the read. It was just a painfully messy word splurge.
Like it’s taken pretty much as fact that Kerouac was writing about real people here. And just gave them all aliases.
Kerouac himself is Sal, Neal Cassady is Dean etc etc.
And I do wonder if this is a huge flaw of the book.
Because in many respects Kerouac was blinded to writing something more truthful or at least well rounded because he was all about portraying this ‘style’ over substance. He wants so much to show us how rebellious these characters are that he forgot that they are still human beings and never fully fleshed them out.
Or he was just too freaking off his head and utterly wasted to write a coherent plot.