Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review - On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road was an experience I placed late in my life as a reader. For some reason, the thought of reading about a young man’s travels across the United States did not seem all that interesting. Thanks, however, to an exhibit that recently opened at the National Gallery of Art feating photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg featuring his fellow Beats, I decided to read the infamous work with eyes and mind wide open. Now, after having read the book, I know understand the influence the Beat Generation had on society, with American Youth as its core. This was a novel that broke the boundaries of life and yet still maintained a sense of style and grace that cannot be matched today. Within the 307 page novel are the travels, mistakes and lessons learned, and literally mind blowing discoveries made by the two main characters, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. Sal, a soon to be college student and author of a novel, tags along with his Midwestern buddy Dean in their search for something greater and more meaningful than the life they were shown to live. Reading this work as a woman living in the year 2010, I could not help but wonder if such an adventure could be duplicated now. Could a group of people with hardly any money or food, drive from one coast to the other, all the while focusing on the world around them and just what it had to offer? Could any of us, in our day to day lives, ever stop to ask the question, “what if?” Kerouac’s writing style adds to the overall mood of the novel: a rushing feeling to get to the next place, the next sensation, the next place of enlightenment. During their travels, they “experience” the cities of Denver, New Orleans (my personal favourite scene), San Francisco, New York and others, with even a dip into Mexico in pushing the envelope further. While Sal is taking it all in with an air of wonder and general curiosity, Dean inhales it like cigarette smoke and refuses to breathe it out. He descends downward into a pool of maniacal madness while still trying to take it all in and asking for more. There is never a sensation too rough, a feeling to extreme, or an adventure too exotic for him. He lives simply to live and that is enough. For example, while in Denver after accepting a ride from a gay man, Dean says in a fit of frustration after talking and learning more about him, “You see, man, it’s better not to bother. Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.” What Sal and Dean want in life is offered and they take it without question, a concept that not everyone could understand or share during their time. Kerouac, along with other creatives that made up the Beat Generation, wondered what if and decided to find their own answers their own way. The answers came with a heavy price but in the end, one must wonder if it was worth it. Kerouac died of his addiction to alcohol in 1969 at the age of 47; were his experiences enough to justify his death? In my own opinion I say yes. While it is easy to read of adventures while wondering what it would be like, they simply lived. As Kerouac puts it so well in the first chapter, “Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”