Have you ever pretended to have done something you believed might make you seem a little more hip, worldly, etc.? Perhaps you’ve concocted some tales about an interesting trip or how you savored the latest haute cuisine, or perhaps it was the reading of a book. Not just any book, but the book…On the Road. Perhaps I did misrepresent my literary conquests once upon a time. I shudder now to think how I uttered those fallacious comments, but now I atone.
A friend questioned the validity of the entire Modern Library list when he spotted On the Road among the 100, and claimed it was “a piece of trash” and wondered at my endeavor. Well, I must proclaim, while I wouldn’t refer to it as any form of waste matter, I was disappointed and very ashamed at my past malfeasance.
A semi-autobiographical tale, we follow Sal Paradise (Kerouac) to California, Louisiana, and Colorado and eventually, to the end of the road in Mexico City. He is joined by Dean Moriarity (Neal Cassady) and Carlo Marx (Alan Ginsberg), his fellow beat writers who all drink in excess, experiment with drugs and pursue sexual gratification with abandon.
It was interesting to see how they were able to rely on strangers for food and transportation throughout the country and even came to expect the assistance. What would have been interesting were some peripheral tales; the musicians they enjoyed, the families left behind, the hobos on the road, etc. Unfortunately, tales of inebriation and drug induced stupors don’t hold out for very long without more substance, and here, there was very little.
Sal Paradise is a young writer who decides to travel out west and relies on an aunt and the kindness of strangers to get him to his journey’s end. When he reaches his destination, he drinks to excess, spends his last dime, somehow makes it back home and then plans for the next trip. This is Jack, Jack f**k*ng Kerouac narrating and I never felt I got to know him at all. Did I miss something? Perhaps…
There were many other characters, however, all were rather one-dimensional; they drink, they take drugs, they listen to music and they hit the road. Sorry to make it sound so boring, but it was and that’s a shame because it could have been much better if only Mr. Kerouac had been sober, for a little while anyway.
What really troubled me was the insincerity of the voice of Sal Paradise. It just didn’t take me there, on the road, as I had hoped. I’d love to hear more about Mr. Kerouac’s travels in his true voice. I’m sure he led an interesting life and could enlighten me.
My rating for On the Road is a 6 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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