Review by Rafa LombardinoTitle: "On the Road"
Author: Jack Kerouac
Published in: 1957
"On the Road," Jack Kerouac's most celebrated novel, had been on my list for quite some time. I actually met an author who got to hang out with him and couldn't stress enough how "those were the days." This book is considered THE ultimate depiction of the beat generation, the favorite novel of so many, young and new, # 55 on the list of 100 Best Books in English. And, when I finally got to it, the sad truth is that... I didn't care much for it. Call me square. I don't care...
I know, my comments here will be criticized. People will tell me that I'm either dumb and didn't understand the book or have a very narrow view of the world and/or felt uncomfortable with the subject. I'm ready to embrace this criticism, because I believe different people like different things and everybody is entitled to their own opinion. At least I gave it a try.
I understand the importance of the novel for its time. Kerouac definitely went beyond his peers and published a true account of the youth of which he was a part and a representative voice. He probably even scandalized readers back then when he described the sexcapades of Sal and Dean, the main characters who can't stay put and go from the East Coast to the West coast so many times, and then down to Mexico, that their constant shifting and moving left me dizzy. I can certainly appreciate all that, but it simply wasn't my thing.
Maybe the fascination comes from Kerouac's erratic narrative. I assume that's how people behave when they're high 24/7, but instead of giving me this surge of energy and leave me mesmerized about them and their lives, it had the opposite effect on me. Have I passed the "right age" to read it? Was I born "too late" to be hooked on it? I can't quite put my finger on it, but I just know these weren't the kind of people with whom I'd like to hang out. Most of the time, I felt like slapping them around. "Do something, you useless piece of..." Oh, why bother, they'll just go on doing their own thing...
In my narrow view, these characters were always broke and didn't care when they would have a roof over their heads or enjoy their next hot meal, but could always afford booze, cigarettes and drugs, then steal some bread and cheese to make sure they had enough strength for their next adventure.
I guess the parts of the book that caught my attention the most were the brief moments with Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg) and when they spend some time with Old Bull Lee (William S. Burroughs) and Jane (Joan Vollmer) around New Orleans. Their misery and poverty really got to me, especially when Sal talks about the kids. Still, the novel bounces around so much that I didn't feel like I had enough time to actually see those characters up close. I was lacking a little more depth.
It took me a long time for me to finish this book, because I was dreading it. I didn't want to spend time in that environment, but I do understand the cultural and literary contexts that allowed this book to be written. I think I actually enjoyed researching it and reading ABOUT the story behind the book and the real-life characters way more than I enjoyed reading the book itself.
Then, a few months after I finally finished reading it, I had a chance to watch Walter Salles' take on the story as a motion picture. What seemed so flat to me on those pages came to life in an entirely different light. What I thought were two-dimensional characters did become fascinating. What Garrett Hedlund did with Dean was fantastic and you could see in his eyes everything that was omitted in writing, all the longing for his father and his realization of failure as a father. And I can't even talk about the first time Viggo Mortensen appears on the screen as Old Bull Lee... Those moments in their house were just too painful to watch.
It's probably a crime for me to say that the movie was better than the book, but I enjoyed it far more in colors, with all the nuances that you can see from the great acting, as opposed to people wandering, lost, going from place to place, looking for the next fix, arranging to meet again some time soon in a city (no specific location), and waiting for others to solve their problems because there's so much going on that they can't afford to really work on their issues.
Then again, maybe you don't have to rave about a book and say how much you enjoyed reading for it to be effective. When people ask me, I say that I didn't like reading it, but after watching it in living color, I'm still taken back to those moments and the characters will somehow follow me around, whether I like it or not.