So I just finished reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac, which I got from the NaNoWriMo book drive along with The Survivor. And I don’t really feel like I can write a typical review of it. My feelings about this book are quite strange.
I can definitely see why other people like the whole thing. I enjoyed the style of first-person prose – you can really imagine the narrator, Sal Paradise, speaking. And I enjoyed the travelling aspect of the book, and how well everything is pictured, to the point that I didn’t even mind that there’s no real plot – it’s mostly just Sal and his friends driving and hitchhiking around America, going home, and then doing it all over again. When Sal was just on the road, experiencing the country, I felt very contented with the book.
It was when it turned its attention to the characters that On The Road bugged me.
I understand that this book is a picture of a different time – the late 1940s – but the aimless ‘beat’ lifestyle it represents just made no sense to me: I couldn’t grasp what the characters wanted out of life and their adventures, and what was driving them. And I couldn’t respect the characters for a lot of what they were doing, especially Dean Moriarty. I don’t think I’ve wanted to reach through the pages and punch a character in the face so badly since Bella Swan. I hated Dean. I hated his impulsive irresponsibility with regards to his families (yes, families); I hated his giggling whenever he does something naughty; and I hated how he speaks in this pretentious, all-knowing way, like he’s filming a documentary, when really he’s just an idiot. And sometimes the book does acknowledge that he’s not really that great as a person, but not enough.
One of my friends, who is a fan of this book, talked about “living through the characters” – and I do get that. I read books to live through the characters all the time – in fact, that even motivates some of the writing I’ve done for NaNoWriMo, having my characters do things I can’t do myself. I’d like to go to Hogwarts. I’d like to go to Dinotopia. Heck, I’d really like to drive across America in one go, coast to coast – plus that’s something I could do in real life. But I don’t particularly want to live through a character who goes on adventures while leaving his wife and child of the month in the dust without a second thought.
I’m left wondering if I’m just not the right kind of person to appreciate this book, if there’s something about it I can’t get because the perspective of life it presents is so different to my own that I can’t make sense of it. I can’t recall having that kind of problem with the overall context of a book before, even in books set in different time periods or universes with very different moral values to our world.
So in that way, reading On The Road was an experience, at least. But now I can move on to something that’s more my style.