Timothy's Reviews > Desolation Angels

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac
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Mar 07, 09

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Recommended for: Folks who are already into Kerouac
Read in January, 2008

This is a very fragmented book. I have to admit that Part 1, "Desolation on the Mountain," was the most difficult to get into. There are probably multiple reasons for that, including Kerouac's sometimes obscure allusions to Buddhist thought, and maybe also Kerouac's effort to describe an experience that ultimately only he could have understood. But the narrative becomes more interesting--and also much more poignant--when Kerouac's protagonist descends the mountain and tries to reconnect with friends. What comes into sharp relief, at least for me, is that the time spent on the mountain did not meet the narrator's (and perhaps in fact the author's) expectations of enlightenment, and this begins a downward arc that becomes increasingly tragic as the story goes on.

It's not as if his behavior or adventures in the second half of the book is all that different from the kinds of exploits described in On The Road: what has changed is the perspective. Endless restlessness and potential has become desperation and the suspicion that the narrator's best days are behind him--particularly as the publication of what would be known as his masterpiece (In Kerouac's own life, of course we know this is On The Road) draws closer. As his own experiences and stories become concretized and consumed by the public, and ironically, just as the narrator begins to have his greatest influence on the world around him, the spontaneity of his earlier days seems to begin to decay, and the failed spiritual quest on the mountain starts to look more and more like a last-ditch effort to find his way. This is a fascinating story, but be warned: it chronicles the beginning of the end for Kerouac's protagonist, and even more sadly, for Kerouac himself. The mood has changed.
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