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Sometimes a Great Notion

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  15,420 Ratings  ·  1,002 Reviews
The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Following the astonishing success of his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey wrote what Charles Bowden calls "one of the few essential books written by an American in the last half century." This wild-spirited tale tells of a bitter strike that rages through a smal

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Published September 28th 2010 by Recorded Books, LLC (first published January 1st 1964)
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Jun 15, 2011 Oriana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: phenomenal, read-2008
after reading: Oh my. Oh my goodness what an incredible book. Absolutely stunning.

Sometimes A Great Notion (which, btw, gets its title from the Ledbelly song "Goodnight Irene") is the story of the Stamper family, renegade loggers in Oregon in maybe the fifties. It's an incredible family—Henry, the patriarch, the crazed, stubborn old goat who started the logging business; his son Hank (stoic, serious, earnest, proud, charming) and Hank's cousin Joe Ben (brimming with enthusiasm and joy and good
Aug 25, 2008 Lostinanovel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn’t want to read this one. Its long. Its by some acidhead hippie. Its only famous because Kesey is famous. He has fans because of his lifestyle, not his literary merit. Its about a group of loggers on strike? Ugh, sounds boring. But I gave it a shot and was blown away….

The storyline didn’t grab me right away but Kesey’s writing did. He had talent and this book is creatively ambitious. Every character has a turn at first person voice and the speaker can switch several times, sometimes even w
Mar 07, 2007 adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everybody!
Hands down the most underappreciated American novel ever! I think it should be up there with "Moby Dick" "Grapes of Wrath" etc. In fact, I think it is better. it's hard to imagine Ken Kesey, hippy acid head that he was would be able to so write so poignantly and beautifully but he absolutely pulled it off, his other famous novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest" doesn't even hold a candle to "Sometimes a Great Notion" It's rather long and it is written in a "Faulkneresque" style where POV's switc ...more
AnnaRebecca Crary
Jul 02, 2007 AnnaRebecca Crary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone unafraid of a little dense prose
If V. Woolf had

a) grown up within sight of the Coastal Range, and
b) enormous, swinging testes,

then this book would be sold in a 3-pack with "Mrs Dalloway" and "The Waves" today. It's such literatoor, but it's so masculine and so blue-collar also. God I love it. The beautiful, funny slang; the creepy, right-on descriptions of the menacing landscape... It's got man vs. land and man vs. man. Who could ask for anything more?
Jul 20, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2014
I must admit that the premise for this novel – a strike in the logging industry during the 1960s – didn’t exactly set my heart aflutter with excitement, but I loved Kesey’s writing so much in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that I really wanted to give this one a chance. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

The crux of this novel, to me, was the complicated relationships that we have with one another and the deep rooted hurt that lives quietly within us. Our parents, our siblings, our spo
Robert Beveridge
Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion (Bantam Windstone, 1964)

I really, really wanted to like this book. An underread novel by an acknowledged American master of letters with a core of fans who consider it one of the best novels of the last century. What could be better? Well, to put it in as few words as possible, Kesey's writing style.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest works, and works so well, because it's tight. It's terse. It says what needs to be said. Kesey knows what he wants to say and says
Jan 09, 2010 Joshua rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to divide my review of this into 2 sections: me as a reader, and me as a writer:

I love reading books that straddle that line between profundity and enjoyment. In "Notion", Kesey tackles some difficult themes--union busting, technology infringing upon humans involvement with the means of production, sex and family politics/roles, revenge, alcoholism, social stigmas--yet the book never feels didactic or preachy. He avoids this because of the tone with which he wrote the book: it's fun to
Trisha Barnes
Aug 11, 2008 Trisha Barnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Living in the Willamette Valley I had several occasions to see Ken Kesey -- in downtown Eugene, at the MacDonald Theater, and even at the Saturday Market. He enjoyed a local following that elevated him and his friends to an almost rock-star status. My husband had gone to high school with his son and described a Ken Kesey separate from the Merry Prankster charter member and that public persona.

One late spring afternoon, we were driving from Springfield towards Pleasant Hill, and came up on a big
Etta Mo
May 21, 2008 Etta Mo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: oregonians
I had picked up and put down this book so many times, trying, without success, to make it through the first 100 pages. It was only until a co-worker and i decided to form a "one-off" book club in order to read it before a theater adaptation by a local company that i made any real progress. even with a clearly defined reason in hand, the first 100 pages can be taxing; it's best to read slowly, savoring the flavor of the words even if you can't quite grasp all the meanings. however, hang on becaus ...more
Sep 25, 2007 A-ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Men who are Men
Shelves: fiction
I hated this book for a long time. The opening is difficult to get through, and I needed to start reading it three times over the last few years just to build up enough momentum to get through it. No doubt about it, Sometimes a Great Notion is a difficult novel. But I also think it is a great novel. Once I got the hang of the stream of consciousness and how the narrator switches from character to character, I realized how worthy of a read this book is. And once I reached the middle of it I reali ...more
May 06, 2014 Gavin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to be honest, I really wanted to like this book. The best intentions...

Part of the problem may have been Kesey himself. It's a strong storyline, the irascible Stamper family that will abide by the rules of no other man. They're a richly drawn cast, full of flaws, secrets, and mistrust, but their unbreakable self determinism defines them. It's a strong start, but he confounds it by overwriting the minutia, underwriting the big events, and chasing a questionable narrative machination to the
Jan 26, 2013 Jordan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you have yet to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, put this down and pick that up. If you have read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, realize before you begin reading Sometimes a Great Notion that this is not that.

In case you missed my biasedness, I like Ken Kesey’s first novel. A lot. So, I went into Sometimes a Great Notion expecting nothing short of greatness. And after finishing his second novel, I would say that it didn’t quite meet my lofty prospects. But that isn’t to say that I didn
Mar 06, 2013 Ursula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 1001-books
It's hard to know where to begin - the back of my edition proclaims, "The earthy, torrid story of a lusty, yelling, Paul Bunyan of a man and his battles with society." (In fact, it proclaims that all in caps.) That sort of describes an aspect of the book, but mostly it's kind of like those ads for action movies where they play up the love story angle to try to get the women to come and see it - you know how they cut together the 5 minutes of time actually devoted to the supposed love story and t ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Carolyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of rain
Recommended to Carolyn by: Matt
Rain Rain Go Away.

This is a wet novel. Set in the rainy season in Oregon you get pruned fingers flipping through the pages. It's lovely. The writing is lovely. I was constantly thinking of turning down corners to mark passages only to turn the page and find something more beautifully written.

This can come off as a man's story at first, it's about loggers and brothers, sons and fathers, but I'm not a man and I was completely caught up from the middle to the end. (You have to be patient in the b
Stephanie Griffin
Jul 01, 2012 Stephanie Griffin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I live in the Northwest. My bookish friends have said to me, “What? You live in the Northwest and you’ve never read SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION?!” Well now I have. The 628-page classic, written by Ken Kesey of the Merry Pranksters group, has become seared into my brain. Published in 1964, the plot revolves around the fictional Stamper logging family who reside along the Oregon coast.

The setting is the mid-1900s, when loyalty still meant something. The logging industry, as dangerous as ever, also fa
Jul 26, 2007 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Written in that no-nonsense way that great American writers do so well, that seems effortless yet still full of similes and all the other tricks of the trade. Like sitting around a campfire listening to an old-timer telling his life story, his face taking on the expressions of every character he describes, the darkness of night around the golden fire making you edge closer and closer, mouth gaping, eyes wide. Gave me the feeling I used to get watching The Waltons on a lazy Sunday in my youth.

Jan 20, 2015 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-years-ago
Kesey's masterful novel about a logging family in the Pacific Northwest and the impact of a strike in collision with their never-say-die attitude towards the world, has been somewhat overshadowed by the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and that is unfortunate, for it is one of the best novels written about the west and the western mindset. Belongs on the shelf with Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, Denis Johnson's Dead Again, and Steinbeck's East of Eden. A movie was made from it wit ...more
Nov 25, 2014 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crucial, 2014
A book starts with a human arm giving the finger suspended from a flag pole. And it ain't the game of thrones. You know its gonna be good.

Amazed. Tried to read this in my early 20's or late teens after Cuckoo's Nest and the now questionible "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."
Wasn't ready for a book that truly captures the NATURE of coastal Oregon, let alone loggers in a grand Shakespearean manner.
Really loved every second of this book this time. Kesey could have taken that LSD and run wild with it,
Dara Salley
Jul 08, 2013 Dara Salley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The friend who recommended this book to me that it was a little difficult warned me. I was completely at sea for the first 30 or so pages. Kesey’s style is lyrical and non-linear. Eventually the characters and settings fell into place and that was when the book became completely engrossing. Kesey switches between inner monologues, dialogue and description frequently. He also switches between characters, often within the same paragraph. It’s a unique style that gives the reader and all encompassi ...more
Oct 12, 2007 Ansky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with a brain
By far my favorite book ever... I read it again about every 3 years. I've worn out half a dozen copies (and given away as many), and would just about trade my soul for a hardcover version -- just can't afford it. Yes, it's extremely difficult, and it took me a few tries to get going, but the opening description of the river and the Stamper house on the bank had me hooked and I kept coming back. Once I acclimated to the shifting viewpoints I could barely put it down. There is one passage of obser ...more
Alexia Kelly
Dec 21, 2008 Alexia Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is mind blowingly amazing. The first 100 pages are a real slog, but once you're in the story is like a river current that won't let you go. A quintessential Northwest read, I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a moving, memorable and challenging read.
Diana Welsch
May 24, 2011 Diana Welsch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite book ever. I read it twice in a row in 2008, pretty much spent the entire year reading just this book. It's a masterpiece. It rocked my socks off, and every other garment I was wearing, in a way that made it impossible to look at books and reading the same way again.

It's about a logging family that is continuing to work despite a strike by the logging company that employs most of the town. They need help to finish this contract job, so brothers Joe Ben and Hank Stamper send a
Aug 08, 2012 Basil rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were a lot of things I enjoyed in "Sometimes A Great Notion". I was intrigued by the fact that the narration shifted from first person to third person to first person (but from another's character's perspective) all on the same page. I loved the idea of a bar, mentioned early on, with a Woman's Christian Temperance Union "Remember...One Drink Is Too Many" sign out front (which if I ever own a bar I will definitely acquire). I loved picturing what it must be like living on this river, so is ...more
Joel Barnes
May 16, 2007 Joel Barnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: displaced children of the west / everyone
Shelves: thisyear
A tale of revenge, jealousy, self-discovery, defiance, pride, community, independence and redemption; this book has it all. Whether you identify with the prodigal Leland, the stoic Hank, or the lost Viv, Kesey's emotionally charged but ultimately unbiased portrayal of the struggle of family vs community and family vs itself will exhilarate. Through seamless stream of consciousness(es) you begin to inhabit the hive-mind of the Oregon logging community. The motivations of even the most insignifica ...more
Jun 10, 2007 Shrinivasaron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pastreads
I had finished college in the spring of 2005 and had landed a job in Oregon. Coming from Wisconsin, Oregon was a foreign world to me. Over the summer before my move, I picked this book up. It does a great job capturing the essence of the Oregon coast. Kesey masterfully interweaves the small town mentalities with larger then life characters.

A recurrent theme in the book is the geese flying overhead. Kesey uses it as a harbinger of upcoming events in the book. I moved to Oregon in early fall and
Nov 16, 2008 Paige rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intricate, beautiful, and as tough to chew on as left-out beef jerky, this novel is an epic, EPIC piece of work that gnaws through the bullshit in life and shows the raw-ass intensity of familial issues. This glorious, soggy Oregon novel borders on Greek tragedy--the patriarchal power struggles are dramatic as hell, and the individual characters encapsulate the difficult and exhausting thing that is the human condition.
Feb 20, 2016 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Et quelquefois j'ai comme une grande idée est un roman fleuve (c'est le cas de le dire), sorte de western ouvrier où les deux adversaires sont des frères, engagés dans un combat pathétique et silencieux, jusqu'à l'explosion finale. Leur rivalité familiale prend des allures quasi bibliques (le mythe d'Abel et Caïn), tant l'un fait pâle figure face à un frère véritable force de la nature. S'ajoute à ce face-à-face un troisième personnage, la nature impétueuse et sauvage qui tient lieu de cadre à l ...more
Jan 15, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For my money, Sometimes a Great Notion is The Great American Novel, against which, Huckleberry Finn, often given that title, can’t hold a candle and seems a mere twaddling piece of kiddie lit. Twain may have the greater reputation as a writer, but in my mind Kesey the writer is the greater. While Twain foregrounds the relation of a black man and a white boy to highlight both the shame of slavery and the promise of emancipation and its near-fulfillment in the Civil Rights movement, Kesey eschews ...more
Melissa Waldie
Jan 23, 2010 Melissa Waldie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book takes a bit of work to read. I read it in the 70's, and didn't really get what all the fuss was about. This time, I did the work and it was worth it. The writing is fantastic. There is poetry in places - especially where he describes nature*, which is extra fun for me because he's describing the northwest.

Another great thing about the writing was that he switches voice mid-paragraph and sometimes mid-sentence. It's as if the characters are bursting to say their piece, and can't wait t
Monty J Heying
Sep 01, 2012 Monty J Heying rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
Kesey's first book, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, is written in a more relaxed traditional style, but he must have been on LSD too long when he wrote SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, because he's everywhere, even in a dog's head. (Tolstoy did that too. It's okay; I've been there too.)

It all happens in Oregon in the 1950-60s, out in the woods and inside a house on a river that flows through a small Oregon town and empties into a bay. Women are in the background. This is a guy story, full of macho con
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American writer, who gained world fame with his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962, filmed 1975). In the 1960s, Kesey became a counterculture hero and a guru of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary. Kesey has been called the Pied Piper, who changed the beat generation into the hippie movement.

Ken Kesey was born in La Junta, CO, and brought up in Eugene, OR. Kesey spent his early years hun
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“Look...Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier. And the lives of such stuff as dreams are made of may be rounded with a sleep but they are not tied neatly with a red bow. Truth doesn't run on time like a commuter train, though time may run on truth. And the Scenes Gone By and the Scenes to Come flow blending together in the sea-green deep while Now spreads in circles on the surface. So don't sweat it. For focus simply move a few inches back or forward. And once more...look.” 52 likes
“For there is always a sanctuary more, a door that can never be forced, a last inviolable stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack; your vote can be taken, you name, you innards, or even your life, but that last stonghold can only be surrendered. And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love.” 20 likes
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