This, the infamous and seminal point in Jack Kerouac’s career was my second book on the Mexico trip. I’ve never read him prior to this offering and it was a huge revelation in terms of generational writing and understanding all the gushing over his work. On The Road is an exciting book about youth starved for experiences and ideas; it doesn’t fail to deliver an exciting tale and should be read by anyone hoping to understand the 1940’s and 1950’s and the art that came from that point in time. For many of us, our parents were born and or lived through that generation; it’s an important part of American history. My favorite musician and a favorite writer, Bob Dylan, was influenced by works of people such as Kerouac and Ginsberg so it offered corollary understanding in that way. The book was written in a very short time on something called “the scroll,” a 120 foot scrolling paper! I was unaware of this until writing now, but it’s quite something.
When I think of generations past, prominent figures jump out from a literary perspective. Today, no one truly jumps to mind when I think of my generation in terms of writers, and that saddens me. Of course, I don’t spend a lot of time reading modern authors as the classical literature of times past intrigue me much more, so maybe I’m just out of the loop? I wouldn’t doubt that.
This book is actually an easy thing to describe in it’s whole; quite difficult to explain in complexity and ability. The vast majority is as the title would say, it’s a story about the multiple trips that Jack (under the pseudonym Sal Paradise) takes over a five year span or so from his home on the East Coast throughout the American heartland and to the West and back, over and over. This is fun to read about, and offers readers a chance to understand a completely different time. The main character of the story is actually another by the name of Dean Moriarty. He is heavily intertwined without the book. Half crazy and driven by the experiences of life, Dean offers Sal a reason to take on more adventure.
It’s understandable that this book takes some heat for offering ideas that aren’t always “morally sound” in the eyes of everyone. Dean is a womanizer, has married two or three times and has around four children scattered across the lands by the finale of the book. Sal, for his part, is a bit more conservative but still does many things that others may find contemptible.
The beauty of Kerouac here is the intricacy and ability he harbors in distinguishing idiosyncrasies of the main protagonists, and effectively the generation they abide in. The individual perspectives that give a story so much color remind me of Salinger and Holden Caulfield. That view point is obviously very narrow, that generation was comprised of many different people and ages, but the traveling youth is represented well here and we are much better for it.
Kerouac died at a young 47 years old, but he’s timeless because of this book. It’s a great introduction to writing in frame of thought and an entire generation.