Tim's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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Mar 16, 10

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Read in March, 2010

There are some books that are just made to be read aloud, and this is surely one of them. Will Patton does a magical job of capturing the energy, the aimlessness, the yearning, the people of Kerouac's masterpiece.

I'd somehow always managed to avoid reading this book, associating it (wrongly) with the beat poets, whom I've never been that fond of.

It's a completely different animal.

Hearing it read aloud, I can understand how it arrived like a thunderclap in the literary world of the late 50s, with a raw energy unlike anything that had come before. I wasn't prepared for the Walt Whitman-like love of people and places that suffuses the book, the acceptance and wonder.

It's also an amazing porthole into the past, giving us a view of a very different America, an America where "Mill City" (Mill Valley, I assume) houses immigrant shacks rather than yuppies, where Denver is a frontier town, where you can drive a thousand miles on a few dollars of gas, where people think nothing of hopping in a car to drive for days on end, sleeping in the big back seat.

And the characters are so rich and full. Dean Moriarty - a mad genius, a broken man, both in one. (Fascinating the role that Neal Cassady, his model, went on to play with Ken Kesey and others in that mad era.) I don't know if he was at all like the personality given him by Will Patton's voice, but who cares? The reading created a memorable sense of a memorable man in a memorable, transformative era.

"Do you diiiggg it?" Yes, I did.

One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Dean is explaining how a jazz performance had "It" and trying to put into words what "It" is.

I could listen to this again already - but I won't, because I've already passed it on to a friend.

P.S. The audio version is also great for hearing the repetitiveness of much of Kerouac's imagery - "the sad night" and so on. You imagine an editor wanting to fix that, but that sense of "rough draft" is a key part of Kerouac's style. It may actually have been calculated, but it gives a fabulous impression of spilling from the typewriter in a mad, undisciplined rush. (The story of it having been written in three weeks is overstated, apparently. Yes, there is the scroll. But that came after years of notebooks and lots of rewriting.) Hearing it aloud gives it a kind of Homeric quality, where repetition is a virtue rather than a flaw.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by James (new)

James Like you, I've managed to avoid reading this, for much the same reasons. But your review makes me want to get at it--perhaps the person you gave the audio version would send it to me when done?


Armchairedux A very articulate review about something that isn't easy to put into words, well done.


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