Sep 28, 10
Read from September 23 to 28, 2010
I tried; I really tried. Everything was telling me—I was telling me—this is one I’m going to like. Instead, I got Pablum for the Young Rebel Soul. I suspect I approached this novel with the same myopic nostalgia that, occasionally, contributes to the delusion that young people who are just getting their driver’s licenses and I are ‘roughly’ the same age. More random thoughts to follow.
So you want to write a novel, huh? But, dammit, you just don’t know how to start? No problem, man; it’s cool, daddy-o. Just get writing, use your friends, maybe call it autobiographical? Like it so far? Nice, man, yes, yes, yes. Now, throw in a group of sexist and homophobic racists who party to their own demise, plop ‘em in the story. Still with me, brother? Tell the story any way you want. Tedious prose? Don’t worryaboutit. If you’re smart, you’ll throw in a musical theme; give it a beat, a beat, a beat; hell, dude, the musicians (and their groupies and fans will be lining up). Promote your tale as one that captures “the voice of an era” and …AND be sure to mention that the protagonists are “rebels” then just stand back and wait; a certain portion of the ‘disaffiliated’ and ‘disaffected’ youth population will beat a path to your door (or your bookstore) ready to snatch up a copies like anxious toot-heads panting to get their faces to the coke lines laid-out on a mirror. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t forget to send your heroes across the country, hell, send ‘em back and forth, repeatedly, then do it again. Still with me, brutha? Well, if that’s not a recipe for a contemporary ‘classic’ then it’s a sure-fire recipe for a lawsuit brought by Penguin Books and the estate of Jack Kerouac. (Just between you and me, that was fun.)
It’s not surprising that so many people admire this book—the ones who “get it”—the young, the hopeful, the dreamers. Combine a ‘quest’ with a Bohemian narrator, and voilà , instant relevance to the inexperienced. But they should know that older readers often do ‘get it’ because we’ve already ‘got it’—‘got it’ and moved on. The lure of the quest—the trek—whether across the country or to the city or back to nature, has already occurred for many of us, and for many of us, that trek was merely a first step. Those who ‘get it’ should realize they’re not the first to ‘get it’ and they won’t be the last; in time, other readers—younger readers—will ‘get it’ in ways that no longer seem as important to those who are ‘getting it’ now. I admire the confidence of the reader who ‘gets it’ but I’m also aware that one person’s confidence is another person’s arrogance (I prefer to stick with the less judgmental confidence).
Quest stories often appeal to optimistic youth; they’re tailor-made for the searchers. It’s not surprising, then, to find younger readers responding positively to On the Road, or The Hobbit and its derivative sequels, or The Catcher in the Rye. It’s also not surprising that many older readers find Kerouac self-indulgent and narcissistic, Tolkien tedious (why am I hearing Judy Garland and Ray Bolger singing “goblins, and Golem, and orcs, oh my!?”) and Salinger quite literate by comparison—there are great quest stories to be had, think Salinger, Cervantes, Cormac McCarthty, etc.
If it sounds like I’m dumping on the young, I apologize, it’s not my intent. Consider what Kerouac says: “Teenagers, drunk, disheveled, excited—they ruined our party” (Chapter 9, Part I). It makes me wonder if he’d want to know his current crop of fans.
For some of us, whether we regret the life of the partier or are merely nostalgic when we remember that time of life, boozing and drugs no longer shine with the quite the same bright light. Thankfully, some of us no longer endure the hangovers; some of us no longer feel the buzz as it begins and wonder “WTF did I just take?” (even if we continue to enjoy our moments of ‘appetite enhancement’ we’re well-past thinking those moments matter of themselves or that that ‘feeling’ matters more than the moment it’s a part of).
There’s a problem inherent with autobiographical novels; if they’re bad, you’re stuck knowing that the author/narrator isn’t going to die at the end of it. Harsh? Maybe, but only if the narrator’s own deathwish, or his hero’s, haven’t already predominated the novel.
I kept finding myself eagerly moving toward the end of chapters—chapters that might only have a half or a third of a page of text. Blank pages between Parts—priceless!
I started writing this review, such as it is, when I was barely 25 pages into Kerouac’s autobiographical novel, so if my thoughts seem a little jumpy or disorganized, chalk it up to that, besides if you’ve just read OtR, you should be used to it. It had become such a plod early on that I needed to get some of my thoughts down so I could set them aside and finish this thing. BTW, since OtR has become such an effort already, I’m kicking myself for not doing Infinite Jest instead and thinking “maybe next time I actually can finish Ulysses."
I found this quote on Goodreads, "The cruellest thing you can do to Kerouac is reread him at thirty-eight." — Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia) To that I’d add, or 48, or 58…
Final thoughts and wish: Good reading to you, young idealist; good luck, fellow geezer.