Laura's Reviews > On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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's review
Jan 16, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: being-human, canon, courtship, beat
Recommended to Laura by: book lists
Read in January, 2012

Another book I have felt guilty about not reading lo these many years.

It’s largely the bromance of Jack Kerouac, a/k/a Sal Paradise, and Neal Cassady, a/k/a Dean Moriarty, told in a vaguely epistolary style. The book begins with Paradise more or less falling for Moriarty on the rebound from a divorce. Sal take five Dionysian road trips, usually with Moriarty, keeping their eyes open for Old Dean Moriarty, Dean Moriarty’s father, who is never found. There’s sex and drugs and fast driving. Women are wooed and abandoned; children are engendered; aunts are wired for money.

The last trip is to Mexico, to facilitate Moriarty’s divorce from his second wife, who he had treated poorly. Paradise gets sick, and Moriarty abandons him to return to America and marry wife number 3, leading to a moment of insight I quite liked: “When I got better, I realized what a rat he was.”

Ultimately, Moriarty returns to his second wife, and no father is ever found. Life just goes on. Oh -- Spoiler alert.

There are great passages. When Paradise at last made it back to the United States, he tells us “I was standing on the hot road underneath an arc-lamp with the summer moths smashing into hit when I heard the sound of footsteps in the darkness beyond, and lo, a tall old man with flowing white hair came clomping by with a pack on his back, and when he saw me as he passed, he said, “Go moan for man,” and clomped on back to his dark.” Paradise considers going on a pilgrimage on foot through the dark roads of America, and maybe he does, but he goes home, meets a girl and falls in love. Dean Moriarty comes to New York one last time, and they do not go on a sixth road trip. Paradise has regret. But not to the point he needs treatment.

My husband asked me a good question – what would have felt about this book at 15? I responded unhesitatingly: I would have hated it. I had no patience with casual misogyny and racism back then. I compartmentalize better now. Have more empathy for historical context and all that crap. This book was not written for me, but I see, dimly why it hit people so hard, once upon a time. The Great War had been fought and won and all these people were left with that great question of – what now? How do I now live a meaningful and satisfying life when so much seems vile, stale and unprofitable? There are worse answers than “Road Trip!”

Soon to be a major motion picture. With Viggo Mortinson playing the thinly veiled William S. Burroughs. This pleases me obscurely.

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