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Review On the Road by Jack Kerouac (DNF)

Essential Edition handsomely packaged with french flaps, rough fronts, high-quality paper, and a distinctive cover look

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than forty years ago.

Genre: Classic Literature
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: January 1, 1976
Page Count: 307
Source: My copy.
Rating: No rating (DNF)

The simple truth of my opinion of this book is this: On the Road is boring, and that’s why I didn’t finish it. I don’t know if I’m one of those people who shouldn’t read classics because they just don’t “get it”, or if it was legitimately not interesting. I’ll go for the latter as I picked up this book as a book club read and three other women who range in age and reading tastes could not get into it either. While I realize On the Road is not in the same league as some of the other classics I’ve read, I feel it important to mention that I loved To Kill a Mockingbird in high school; while I disliked the majority of the Jane Austen books I’ve read I loved Pride & Prejudice; and though I thought its politics were tiring and overdone, I thought Anna Karenina was okay. So even though I haven’t read Jane Eyre, any of Bukowski’s or Vonnegut’s work, Brave New WorldLes Mis, or A Clockwork Orange, I don’t view myself a total Classic Lit virgin. But On the Road was so boring.

I wasn’t too familiar with the Beat Generation when I went into this book, and hoped On the Road would spell it out for me. It didn’t. I got more information from Wikipedia. While I recognize the novel’s unique writing style and quotable language, it seemed to me that Sal’s interests were getting drunk and hitchhiking. Vonnegut once said of his relationship with Kerouac:

“I knew Kerouac only at the end of his life, which is to say there was no way for me to know him at all, since he had become a pinwheel. He had settled briefly on Cape Cod, and a mutual friend, the writer Robert Boles, brought him over to my house one night. I doubt that Kerouac knew anything about me or my work, or even where he was. He was crazy. He called Boles, who is black, “a blue-gummed n****r.” He said that Jews were the real Nazis, and that Allen Ginsberg had been told by the Communists to befriend Kerouac, in order that they might gain control of American young people, whose leader he was.”

I don’t know if Kerouac had acted this way because he drank himself insane, but I would guess that he did since he died at 47 from internal bleeding, a result of a lifetime abuse of alcohol.

My intent with this review is not to bash on Kerouac. Based on his fan base, he is practically a great American hero, and, frankly, I’m sure he is fascinating. My point is to give an insight to Sal who was, ultimately, Kerouac. And I’ve read books on traveling (backpacking, specifically), that encompassed the wonder of traveling with friends, meeting new people, and discovering oneself through the beauty of the outdoors. And I don’t think On the Road successfully does that. I think it encompasses Sal and his needs to see through the bottom of a bottle. And yes, I only read 80 pages of the book, but surely that is enough for something to happen? Yet it doesn’t. Sal travels across the country, completely obsessed with Dean and Carlo, who don’t really seem to give a shit about him – they often forget he’s even there – and Remi, who thinks the world owes him something. I don’t really know what one would want to do with these types of characters. Yet Sal wants nothing more.

I’ve wanted to read this book for some time, ever since a recommendation came from one of my favorite independent authors, and as I gazed over the book at the bookstore so many times. You readers will probably never forgive me for this, but I will sheepishly admit that when buzz came across about On the Road The Movie and Kristen Stewart mentioned in one of her interviews that On the Road was one of her favorite books as a teen, I went out and picked it up. The girl, Robert Pattinson cheater or not, intrigues me. (I also wanted to see the movie and for some reason CANNOT watch the movie without reading the book first. It’s a personality fault.) And I was really looking forward to reading it. I mean, beyond the boredom, there was one instance where Sal was out to prove the wonders and beauty of life to a girl by making love to her, but he failed at the making love part, making the sexual encounter a quickie, ultimately failing to prove to her that life was beautiful. She seemed disappointed. And I was disappointed. Maybe it’s realistic of Kerouac. But for me, it was the one part of the first third of the book that got me to sit up in my seat and pay attention – not because of the possible romance, but because of the evolution of Sal as a character, the evolution of anything in this book – and yet it ended up being worth nothing. And then it just went right back into the swing of things. Sal’s drinking and Remi’s bullshit. I didn’t get much farther until I picked up something else.

This book just fell horribly flat for me. It bored me, and unlike Anna Karenina (a book that was so very hard for me to finish), I didn’t particularly like any of the characters enough to force myself to read on. I know that there are so many people that adore Kerouac and this book. Unfortunately, it would seem that I’m not one of them. I don’t know, maybe I don’t get it. But if I have to suffer through the rest of this book to get it, I don’t really want to.