My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having been on many, many, many road trips with my military family — I have to say that some of this story can be tedious. After all, spend enough time on the road, and you get dizzy with the monotony of the landscape. While there are those sections in this book, it is obvious that Kerouac’s reaction to the monotony of the road is the sheer joy of being on the road.
Kerouac’s observations are gorgeous, I really was swept away during the first part as he described eating apple pie in diners with almost no money in his pocket. I felt the wind as he sat in the back of truck stuffed with other men looking for work, trying to get home, or, like Kerouac, just enjoying the trip — with a few nips of some alcohol or another to keep warm. His real talent as a writer is putting the mythic beside the profane…elevating and degrading both elements at the same time, like with this passage on the first time he saw the Mississippi River: “And here for the first time in my life I saw my beloved Mississippi River, dry in the summer haze, low water, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw body of America itself because it washes it up.” (pg. 12)
Yeah, but while the descriptions of the road are lovely, nothing good happens whenever these boys stay still. Wives and children are left. Drugs are done. High-flown philosophizing that allows them to bow out of life occurs. Whenever the road ends — on one coast or the other — it’s not good. Friends and family get tired of draining freeloaders real fast. And part of the frustration of the ‘still moments’ (as I call them) is that Sal and Dean (representations of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady respectively) are oblivious to the emotional damage they inflict. Even when confronted by fed up wives/girlfriends/mothers directly, they don’t see what they’re doing.
It was a relief to me, as a reader, whenever they started moving again.
If you enjoy any of the following: fast cars, loose women, music, travel (and all the side roads that go along with it), America, your crazy uncle’s stories, alcohol, and if you like it all set to beautiful language…well, you’ll find something to like in this book.