Sunday, January 15, 2017
Review of On the Road by Kerouac
I know Jack Kerouac regarded himself as a ‘dumbsaint of the mind,’ but this work felt more dumb than saint. Yes, yes…I’m sure he’s a genius. But what an extraordinary waste of time and talent this book represents…and I’m talking about the time/talent it takes to read it, not to mention write it!
Okay, that was fun. But in all sincerity, where did this young dumbsaint go wrong? As a writer he seems enamored with wastrels and good-for-nothings. I found myself wanting to sing him the old protestant Christian Hymn, “Come home!” If there’s anyone who needs a solid come-to-Jesus moment, it’s young, will-less Sal Paradise and his permanently fork-in-the-road friend, Dean Moriarty.
How the bloody hell could anyone like this book? Seriously. If you’re reading this review and you actually liked the book, I would love to know why. Leave a comment. And then slap yourself. I suppose the virtue of the work could have been the way it gave the establishment the finger, or the way it celebrated middle class opportunity and rebellion, or the way it demonstrated the knee-jerk and reckless ingenuity of vagabonds bred by good ole ‘Merica. To be honest, those are interesting subjects to me; but Kerouac’s style is too rambling, repetitive, mundane, and even at points thrilling for all the wrong reasons. I could find no redeeming value in any of it. The characters were all pieces of shit in the strictest, dictionary sense of the terms. I’ve gone back to the book several times since reading it, wanting—nay…aching!— to find some glimmer of value. Nothing. Maybe it was just a tad too long? Maybe I’m too immature to appreciate the nuanced high-culture from which Jack scrutinized and baptized low-culture? Maybe the feeling of reader-futility was Jack’s exact point? Maybe. Or maybe the book is for dumbsaints.
If you haven’t read it, or even if you have, grant me the honor of summarizing. Sal is a spoiled brat, a supreme example of delayed adulthood, who is always looking for a rush and can’t sit still long enough to get some steady work and stop bumming money off his aunt who keeps sending him money because she’s always afraid he’s going to die as a result of his dumb-as-saint choices. This mindless dolt chases around Dean Moriarty, the only person stupider than himself, and literally follows off every cliff Dean jumps off. Dean is that ‘friend’ which every parent in every home ever has warned their kids about in that phrase, “if they jumped off a cliff, would you?” Yup. Little boy Sal would. I swear that the Darwin Award—conferred on every imbecile who ever killed themselves and thus mercifully removed their genes from the human gene pool—was created just for idiots like Sal and Dean. If one of those boys came after my 13-year-old daughter—after all, they chased pre-teens in the book—I wouldn’t blink to grind their cognitive functions to a halt with an aluminum baseball bat. In self-defense of course.
The only way the ending could have been better would have been if both of the protagonists were publically flogged while being forced to declare, “We are pieces of shit that don’t deserve our privilege of going around stealing, bumming, drinking, drugging, lusting, humping, nearly-child-molesting, women-beating, and pretending to appreciate the life we disgustingly squander as if it’s just another cheap beer!” Yes indeed, that would be a good ending and might nearly redeem the story. I don’t ask for much. Unless the option of them killing themselves was on the table. In which case, I’ll take that.
I really do wish Jack would have been wise enough to use this as some kind of moral fable instead of a play-by-play of his blended experience and fantasy. It was written in a spirit of levity no doubt, but I could hardly stomach the cyclical, spiraling ignorance and unconscious sensualism that seemed the real heart of the story. The literary style displayed all the panache and flourish of a staggering drunk. The theme was so self-destructive, but with accents to try and make it somehow romantic and hilarious. Maybe if the character splurged like that for a day. That might be funny. But for years upon years of adulthood?
Question. What kind of country doesn’t let people like that starve to death? Letting such prodigals eat better than pigs is a crime. Sarcasm aside, there are people who do live and die like these characters. And it’s much less handsome. How is this funny? I mean really funny? Not as in the “they’re stupid” kind of funny, but as in the “this is cool” kind of funny? I consider myself fairly progressive, but let’s not celebrate stupidity as artistry. Stupid people are not artists; they are the art of artists.
For the love of God, don’t feed the dumbsaints.