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Sometimes a Great Notion

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  21,462 ratings  ·  1,297 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
Paperback, 640 pages
Published July 28th 1977 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1964)
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Chris Holme I don't believe his drug use had much to do with it, but maybe it had to do with Kesey's LATER stuff not amounting to much, I can't know, but THIS boo…moreI don't believe his drug use had much to do with it, but maybe it had to do with Kesey's LATER stuff not amounting to much, I can't know, but THIS book is one of my top 3 favorites of all time, an absolute legend of style, prose, atmosphere and character, did I mention style? Holy Smokes. Reviews mention a likeness to Faulkner, but whereas Faulkner had me on the outside looking in, trying to figure what was actually up, Kesey HAS me, voice, writing structure, style and story. An incredible accomplishment just a couple of years after "Cuckoos Nest". I am re-reading it from start to finish (over the years I have just picked it up and read a few pages, at any point, and enjoyed it again)(nobody can write a story like this) I say it is one of my top 3, one of the others is "Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy (nobody can).(less)

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Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Back in the day, I worked in the radio industry, both on air and behind the scenes as producer for a call-in talk show. There's a saying in the business I learned during that time - having a "big voice".

A big voice is one that has depth and breadth, one that reminds you of James Earl Jones, Johnny Cash or that guy who does all the movie trailers. Those voices mesmerize, command, practically swallow you whole.

Well, just like someone can have a big voice, I believe there are "big books" - and thi
Steven Godin
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown"

I know little about Oregon State, what little I do know is that it's damp almost all of the time, has it's fair share of trees and woodland, and it's where 'The Goonies' and 'Stand by Me' were filmed, and River Phoenix was born there.

Ken Kesey's 'Sometimes a Great Notion' is quite simply a contemporary American masterpiece, set on the rain soaked Oregon coast, the fictional
Jun 28, 2007 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
Vit Babenco
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes a Great Notion is very polyphonic, the story is narrated by many…
The novel is a wicked and extravagant black comedy cleverly disguised as a family and social drama.
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.

An estranged son, bent on taking revenge upon his older brother, reunites his hardheaded family…
And at times, almost certa
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 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 rated it it was amazing
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?
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Megan Baxter
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
You know how George R.R. Martin changes narrative voices between chapters? Well, this book does that, but within paragraphs. In the first hundred pages, there were a few paragraphs that had, internally, four different perspectives. And I thought, what have I gotten myself into? Is this pretentious? Is it precious?

And more to the point, can I put up with this for 700 pages?

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I
Robert Beveridge
Jan 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Most people only know of Ken Kesey, the novelist, because of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Some people know of him as the grand master of the Merry Pranksters in all their counter-cultural madness. "Either you're on the bus or you're off the bus." Sometimes A Great Notion was his second novel. It is long, it is deep, it is a bit experimental, but it is also considered his masterpiece.

I spent four days reading the book's 628 pages. The last two days I read over 200 pages a day because once I
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Carmel Hanes
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up.

Whew! Finally got to the end of this 30 hour audiobook. I'd read this book many years ago, but a recent review by a GR friend (thanks, Robin!) reminded me of it, and I decided to revisit it to see how it landed now that I've lived so much more life. Kesey's other book (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is one of my all time favorites, so I looked forward to re-experiencing this one.

It did not disappoint. On the surface it appears to be about small town loggers, union strikes, comp
Sallie Dunn
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
It’s hard to know where to begin! I can see why this is believed to be Ken Kesey’s masterpiece. It’s complex, long and jumps all over the place in first person prose. The three main characters tell the story. Hank, the older bother, Leland, the younger brother and old Henry, their dad. This first person technique often jumps from person to person paragraph by paragraph. The story of some old time loggers In Oregon pitted against just about everyone in their town is powerful, riveting and worth t ...more
Trisha Barnes
Aug 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Brendan Monroe
This is a sprawling, epic novel about an American family living in a small lumber town on the Oregon coast and the grudges they bear. Oregon here is wonderfully evoked, and is very much one of the central characters. Which makes you understand why you always see this novel on those lists of "25 Best Pacific Northwest Reads" or whatever.

Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" is certainly one of the most unique novels I've ever read, as the narrative voice has the tendency to change multiple times
Etta Mo
May 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Oregonians, loggers and Dostoevsky fans
Recommended to Mike by: Tara

There I was, ready to kick off my year with the reading of a long novel by an author presumably older and wiser than I am. So imagine my surprise and irritation when, after some arduous research, I discovered that Ken Kesey finished Sometimes a Great Notion (1964) before he turned 30. Which suggests that he was younger and wiser than I am, a combination that I'm less appreciative of. I tell you, the gall of this man.

To add insult to injury, Kesey by '64 had already written and published One Flew
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.

Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 1960s, oregon
The only Kesey book I've appreciated. His best depiction of Oregon. ...more
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Simon Robs
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a fine book, well crafted in character and plot development, key points of symbolism and total command of setting and historical circumstance. It gabs yer gut in the right places and lets go with a throaty hallelujah when ridden off. Kesey knows his woods like Richard Powers' tree bible only from opposing sides which brings me to a salient query: isn't it funny, strange, mystical, etc., how books bleed into each other? I didn't plan to read Saragamo's "Cain" followed by Steinbeck's "EoE" ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Story

The struggle and ultimate acquiescence to nature (and reckoning with ultimate power [God]) is the theme of this huge, rollicking, informative and most interesting story: Nature seen in the ever-present rain and wind, the rivers, the trees, seasons, the moon and the entire animal kingdom. Namely, the indomitable Hank Stamper with his relentless self-denial and muscular struggles against the virgin hardwoods, represents the iron against many have struck and lost. His attempts to dominate
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-books, fiction
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
Stephanie Griffin
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dara Salley
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who reads english
So... I'm going to be 33 in April and I've read a lot of great books. I think I'm going to dedicate a huge chunk of this year into reading the most important books in my life. Sometimes a Great Notion is one of those books.
One can use words like "amazing" "enlightening" "sprawling" "heroic" and "pure" to describe this book but it barely gets at it. This book is why I read fiction. Along with other books like Infinite Jest, The Fountainhead, The Sirens of Titan, Bright Lights Big City, and Please
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, crucial
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,
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An Essential novel 1 15 Aug 05, 2017 12:06PM  
Around the World ...: Discussion for Sometimes a Great Notion 6 51 Dec 08, 2015 08:44PM  
The Bookhouse Boys: Sometimes a Great Notion discussion 102 77 May 03, 2012 04:44PM  

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Ken Kesey was 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. He spent his earl

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