Written from a generation and stand-point I will likely not understand, On The Road is a puzzling classic.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from June 13 to 16, 2016.
Really, why is it a classic at all? It is the question I had while dragging myself through this monotonous book.I had heard so much about this book without really knowing what it was about and was looking forward to finally reading it. What a disappointment. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I tried to understand from a different perspective. It didn’t make me like the book any more but at least I could almost see where it was coming from.
This book chronicles Jack Kerouac’s (Sal Paradise) time on the road with his new friend Neil Cassidy (Dean Moriarty). Sal is fascinated with Dean’s reckless-abandon personality and admires him. Dean is an ex-con and notorious womanizer who ends up having 4 wives and three children while Sal is trying to be an intellect and finish a book. So this unlikely duo hitchhike, drink and fuck their way through America where in the end Sal ends up being abandoned in Mexico as Dean begins to lose his mind.
I wish I could say that there was more to the plot than that but their isn’t really. The characters talk about Jazz music and America, and in the end Sal ends up reflecting a lot about Dean and his time with him. It’s a peculiar friendship that isn’t built on anything other than the men’s desire to do whatever the fuck they want, and the did.
This book is considered one of the pinnacles of beat generation writing, in which individuals dismissed notions of conventional society and valued self-expression. However, this is defintitely a “man’s book” and perhaps the beat movement was specifically about men too, as the men in this book pretty much got away with whatever they wanted to do leaving the women they wooed behind them in the dust and often with children. I’m pretty sure this book was never actually meant for female readers at all actually. I mean, you get tired of the way Sal and Dean used and disposed of women. Even Dean’s perpetual lover, Marylou, who in a way is living the beat lifestyle, is frowned upon for her promiscuous ways and is disposed of by both men as they really only want sex from her.
Having said this, we’re reading this novel from a different era. I’m not saying that the behaviors of the characters are worth condoning but it’s important to understand that this book is a small reflection of a point in time in which we can longer relate. The book is supposed to be about freedom, independence and doing your own thing and in it’s time, it is meant to be inspirational. I can see how throwing caution to the wind and hitchhiking across America in search of nothing other than freedom can be inspirational, it’s the generational context of it that I struggle with. That, and I didn’t find Kerouac’s writing to be all that inspiring. It’s extremely dry and there really isn’t a pinnacle climax to the novel. I found it down right boring, to be honest, and it wasn’t until I took a step back after reading it that I came to find any appreciation for it.
Overall, I am glad that I came to some sort of understanding with this novel. Would I recommend it? No, not really. I suppose you could attempt to read this novel with a base understanding of the time frame and just focus on the idea of freedom and you may find enjoyment out of it. Actually, this book might appeal to teenage boys because the men in this book behave like ones. If you want to read something from the beat generation then read Alan Ginsberg as his writing is by far more prolific, in my opinion. I am thankful this read is now over and done with.