My 24th book from The List was Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which I actually finished almost two weeks ago, but whilst on the road myself, did not have the time to write a review. Without further ado, here it is.
Despite knowing Jack Kerouac to be one of the prominent beat writers of that generation, I didn't know what this novel would be. I didn't know if this would be to beatniks what Naked Lunch was supposed to be to drug addicts, or if this would be a great story of a road trip, like The Sun Also Rises set in middle America in the late 40's. As I began reading, it seemed to be pointing at the former, but slowly the pieces came together, creating a story for sure, but really creating a cast of characters who were not easily forgotten..
Almost autobiographical, Kerouac is represented by Sal Paradise, recent college graduate and budding author, who lacks any kind of direction or purpose, but wants to find himself, on the road. He's accompanied by his hero, Dean Moriarty, son of a wino, who has evenly divided his time between pool halls and prison, but who greets every person and event with more enthusiasm than most can ever muster. The two, often accompanied by series of secondary characters, take a series of adventures across the country; finding odd jobs, shacking up with strange women, and 'living life.'
At the time it was first published, Kerouac was seen as the voice of a new generation; the Hemingway or Fitzgerald of post-war America. On the Road looked at America in a way many previous works didn't or wouldn't. It's reception was often frosty from mainstream media, one reviewer describing it as a 'barberic yawp of a book'. But it did indicate that his new generation wasn't silent either, and that while classic writers might not be voicing their experiences, new writers were.
Today, the sex, the drugs, and the carefree attitude aren't as cutting edge as they were in 1957, but it's story of friendship and adventure are as relevant today as ever, if not more so. What seemed like a foolish journey then, travelling across the country for the sake of travelling, today is seen as something everybody should do in their formative, post-college days; almost a right of passage.
I found myself getting more and more involved with the characters and their adventures the more I read. I found myself identifying with their problems, being it their longing for some direction in life, or their fear of facing the consequences of their misadventures. As the years passed, they slowly recognized the need to settle down and take responsibility for their actions. They recognized that eventually one has to 'grow up'. Of course it isn't easy to come to this conclusion, but eventually everybody has to, no matter how reluctant they may be.
You can read TIME's original review from September 16, 1957 here.
I've started book number twenty-five, Herzog by Saul Bellow, and when finished will have reached the quarter pole of my journey to one hundred.