I finished reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road a few weeks ago.
I have no idea why this book is considered a classic. It is kind of interesting from an "anthropological" stand point (as a window into America in the 1940s), but other than that...it left me cold.
In the beginning, I did think the protagonist, Sal, sounded an awful lot like what Holden Caulfield would have grown up to become. I found myself thinking that this was an almost perfect sequel for Catcher in the Rye. But it wasn't long before I saw that Sal was nothing (or very little) like Holden at all.
Most of the book is weird hippy nonsense (long before there were hippies) and misbehavior that you might expect from adolescents, but the characters in this book are older and should know better. Although their ages aren't really ever specified so they could be younger than I imagined them to be. Probably not, though. Sal is a veteran, has already been married and divorced and is attending college at various times throughout the story...so I suspect they're at least in their mid to late twenties.
So much of the book sounds like JD Salinger could have penned it.
I tried to tell her how excited I was about life and the things we could do together; saying that, and planning to leave Denver in two days. She turned away wearily. We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad. We made vague plans to meet in Frisco.
My moments in Denver were coming to an end, I could feel it when I walked her home, on the way back I stretched out on the grass of an old church with a bunch of hobos, and their talk made me want to get back on that road. Every now and then one would get up and hit a passer - by for a dime. They talked of harvests moving north. It was warm and soft. I wanted to go and get Rita again and tell her a lot more things, and really make love to her this time, and calm her fears about men. Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk - real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious. I heard the Denver and Rio Grande locomotive howling off to the mountains. I wanted to pursue my star further.
Major and I sat sadly talking in the midnight hours. "Have you ever read Green Hills of Africa? It's Hemingway's best." We wished each other luck. We would meet in Frisco. I saw Rawlins under a dark tree in the street. "Good-by, Ray. When do we meet again?" I went to look for Carlo and Dean - nowhere to be found. Tim Gray shot his hand up in the air and said, "So you're leaving, Yo." We called each other Yo. "Yep," I said. The next few days I wandered around Denver. It seemed to me every bum on Larimer Street maybe was Dean Moriarty's lather; Old Dean Moriarty they called him, the Tinsmith. I went in the Windsor Hotel, where lather and son had lived and where one night Dean was frightfully waked up by the legless man on the rollerboard who shared the room with them; he came thundering across the floor on his terrible wheels to touch the boy. I saw the little midget newspaper-selling woman with the short legs, on the corner of Curtis and 15th. I walked around the sad honkytonks of Curtis Street; young kids in jeans and red shirts; peanut shells, movie marquees, shooting parlors.
But the writing is just less...focused. It may be intentional (since Sal seemed to be mentally all over the place most of the time) but it just lacks something for me. And Sal's unswerving loyalty to Dean, no matter how shabbily he was treated, annoyed was irritating.
I couldn't meet a girl without saying to myself, What kind of wife would she make? I told Dean and Marylou about Lucille. Marylou wanted to know all about Lucille, she wanted to meet her. We zoomed through Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, and up to Philadelphia on a winding country road and talked. "I want to marry a girl," I told them, "so I can rest my soul with her till we both get old. This can't go on all the time - all this franticness and jumping around. We've got to go someplace, find something?
"Ah now, man," said Dean, "I've been digging you for years about the home and marriage and all those fine wonderful things about your soul." It was a sad night; it was also a merry night. In Philadelphia we went into a lunchcart and ate hamburgers with our last food dollar. The counterman - it was three A.M. - heard us talk about money and offered to give us the hamburgers free, plus more coffee, if we all pitched in and washed dishes in the back because his regular man hadn't shown up. We jumped to it. Ed Dunkel said he was an old pearldiver from way back and pitched his long arms into the dishes. Dean stood googing around with a towel, so did Marylou. Finally they started necking among the pots and pans; they withdrew to a dark corner in the pantry The counterman was satisfied as long as Ed and I did the dishes. We finished them in fifteen minutes. When daybreak came we were zooming through New Jersey with the great cloud of Metropolitan New York rising before us in the snowy distance. Dean had a sweater wrapped around his ears to keep warm. He said we were a band of Arabs coming in to blow up New York. We swished through the Lincoln Tunnel and cut over to Times Square; Marylou wanted to see it.
"Oh damn, I wish I could find Hassel. Everybody look sharp, see if they can find him." We all scoured the sidewalks. "Good old gone Hassel. Oh you should have seen him in Texas."
I saw two other Kerouac book in the new releases section at Barnes & Noble a while back. I wasn't the least bit tempted to get either one. I will admit that it was interesting to see that weirdo beatniks have been around since at least the 40's. The bold section in the quote above shows some eerie prescience. How did Kerouac know Arabs were plotting to blow up New York all that time? Scary.
It's funny - I've recently read several books that I enjoyed much more than On the Road, but I haven't mentioned many of them here. Not yet, anyway. It could still happen.