On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Right now I’m really into books about taking to the road, escaping to nature and being free. I loved reading The Call of the Wild and Into the Wild last year, and I’m dying to read Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

On the Road drew me in instantly. I was fascinated by Kerouac’s story and read the entire introduction to the book to learn more about it. A key figure in the rise of the ‘Beat Generation’ of writers, he was reckless, random and extremely gifted as a writer.

I’d describe this particular book as having echoes of The Great Gatsby, A Clockwork Orange and any of Hemingway’s writing. Why? …

Kerouac tells the story from the point of view of a character named Sal Paradise who is almost obsessively drawn to his drop-kick buddy Dean Moriarty. Dean stands as the main focus of his adventures, and Sal idolises him and follows him around everywhere.

I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me

This relationship kinds of reminds me of how Nick Carraway puts up with Gatsby’s antics. He seems to follow him around and put up with his drama, much the same as Sal puts up with Dean’s less-than-honourable reputation and aspirations.

(I should also mention that the story is based on real events. The Sal Paradise character is Kerouac himself, while Dean is based on his friend Neal Cassady.)

Secondly, the book is focused on a gang of “lads” who essentially hitchhike around and do whatever they want. They marry and divorce women, sleep with prostitutes and commit petty theft all while keeping up a rambling, comfortable slang. So it’s not quite to the extreme of A Clockwork Orange, but this is what it reminds me of. Lads just banging around town getting up to mischief.

I also find that Kerouac writes simply and with ease. While his writing can at time be elaborate and beautiful, i.e. –

I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel…

– his writing is also very ‘this happened, then this happened, then this happened’. It’s very chronological. It’s very simple and straightforward for the most part.

On the Road actually has the exact feel of someone who sat and wrote without stopping, spilling all their thoughts down. Which is how it was written! Kerouac wrote it in only 3 weeks, all on one massive roll of paper that he taped together and fed through his typewriter, using drugs to keep himself awake. The circumstances come through in the writing. It feels so real and natural.

I could talk about so many more things, but what I’ll quickly mention is the cool way that Kerouac describes jazz music! So simple, so literal, yet so effective.

The behatted tenorman was blowing at the peak of a wonderfully satisfactory free idea, a rising and falling riff that went from ‘EE-yah!’ to a crazier ‘EE-de-lee-yah!’ and blasted along to the rolling crash of butt-scarred drums hammered by a big brutal Negro with a bullneck who didn’t give a damn about anything but punishing his busted tubs, crash, rattle-ti-boom, crash.

Such clever use of onomatopoeia!

So, in conclusion, I loved this book. I thought it was original, refreshing and engaging. Would read again 🙂

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