Adam's Reviews > Big Sur

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
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's review
Jul 07, 2007

liked it
Recommended for: someone who thinks the end game of being a selfish boozehound doesn't suck.
Read in July, 2007

I've not previously read any Jack Kerouac, so I understand starting at this book (one that finds him toward the end of his life, chased by groupies and in full alcoholic bloom) may have been a poor choice. That said, I ultimately found myself shifting between seeing the man as the talented innovator of language and observation he is heralded as and a boob with too much free time and lots of wasted talent.

I began with the average reaction to his style. I imagined an editor taming it down and making it possible to digest in a way that didn't involve rereading page after page to figure out what the hell he is talking about. Meanwhile the content struck me as base and self-centered. After a while though, especially after he makes his first trip to his friends Big Sur cabin, I begin to accept and appreciate his free flowing, poetic narrative. His unique ability to gush over things he observes truly drew me in and I eventually accepted and enjoyed what he had to say.

YET, man what this guy does (or at least chooses to write about) is pathetic. If he were someone I knew I don't know if I'd be able to keep from gently bracing him around the shoulders and saying LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES, JACKO! (In the same understanding but firm voice I'd use with my kindergarteners.) I just felt sad that someone with so much potential could constantly choose to booze it up, not eat, hang out with vampires and look down his nose at women. By the end, I realized that without the tension of watching him self-destruct and neurotically hyperventilate (making Woody Allen seem like the Dalai Lama) and then recover again to just do the same, the book would just be so much poetry (beautiful poetry at that). What if this guy had become a librarian? Or a counselor? Or priest? Maybe he could've harnassed his demons and helped himself and others out, instead of becoming a guy who thinks its no big deal to have sex with a woman while her 8-year old son looks on and says, "Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it".

Should I read another Kerouac? Will I appreciate On The Road?

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Mark I think On The Road is worth reading. It's best read in the bloom of youth and I have no idea how old you are, but even as an older reader it's worth it because of the place it has come to occupy in American literary history. Even if you don't get caught up in the book overall, I'd be surprised if you didn't find that his prose really soars at points.

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