Publisher: Viking, 1957 (written in 1951)
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: B
Summary from Amazon:
On the Road tells the story of two friends whose four cross-country road trips are a quest for meaning and true experience. Written with a mixture of sad-eyed naïveté and wild abandon, and imbued with Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz, On the Road is the quintessential American vision of freedom and hope, a book that changed American literature and changed anyone who has ever picked it up.
Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free.”
I think the statement “changed anyone who has ever picked it up,” goes a little too far in praising this book. It didn’t change me, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. On the Road was a great book to read during these sunny summer days. It made me want to jump in the car and take off.
I would not want to hitchhike as Jack Keroauc did. I was struck by how trusting the world was in the 1940s – at least for Sal. For him to take off to see the country with only $50 in his pocket, he had to know he could rely on the goodwill of strangers to give him rides.
The best part of the book for me was Sal’s (Kerouac’s) descriptions of each of the people he met along the way. With just his short descriptions, I felt I could see each person. I also liked the way Sal felt obligated to talk with each person who gave him a ride. It gave me a look at the “rules of the road” or the hitchhiking culture of the time. It was very interesting and very different from today.
I preferred hearing about the ordinary people Kerouac met in his travels rather than his “friends.” These friends he hung out with were so self-absorbed. Kerouac seemed to admire them for their intellect and writing ability. I think he admires the curiosity of the regular folks he meets on the road much more. I think, deep down, he knew the difference.
These so called friends also seem to have problems with women. I’ve always thought men in the ’30s and ’40s were very gentlemanly. (At least that’s how I remember my father, uncles, and other men from my childhood in the ’40s.) Not these guys. The only difference during this time period was that they felt compelled to marry the women and then. of course, divorce them. I know Kerouc’s friends were important writers, but I have no desire to read or learn more about them. They failed my “good people” test.
On the Road has been on my To-Read list for most of my adult life. I’m glad I finally accomplished this goal. Would I recommend it to you? Not unless you feel the need to read it because of it’s classic value. It’s loaded with bad language and bad manners. It’s redeeming value is in Kerouac’s description of life on the road, the description of the “beat” life style, and, of course, Kerouac’s beautiful writing.
It’s highly acclaimed and on those lists of what well-read people should read, so there is some value there Many of you will disagree with my opinion, but that’s okay. Let me know what you think of the book.