On The Road, the most famous of Jack Kerouac's works, is not only the soul of the Beat movement and literature, but one of the most important novels of the century. Like nearly all of Kerouac's writing, On The Road is thinly fictionalized autobiography, filled with a cast made of Kerouac's real life friends, lovers, and fellow travelers. Narrated by Sal Paradise, one of Kerouac's alter-egos, On The Road is a cross-country bohemian odyssey that not only influenced writing in the years since its 1957 publication but penetrated into the deepest levels of American thought and culture.
Let's set the scene...
It is the very first shot in what would become a critically acclaimed show with a strong, seven year run. Cue the title... Gilmore girls. The main character, Lorelai Gilmore, walks through the square of Stars Hollow heading toward Luke's Diner. Jonesing for her fifth cup of coffee of the day, Lorelai breezes in through the door to beg Luke to hook her up. Successful, she sits down at a table, ready to enjoy cup number five when a young guy sidles up to her table. It's obvious what this man is looking for, but Lorelai is focused on getting more caffeine into her system.
Joey: You make that look really good.
Lorelai: Oh, it is really good. It's the best coffee in town.
Joey: Oh yeah? I'll have to get a cup.
Lorelai: Good plan.
Joey: Yeah, I've never been here before. Just, uh, passing through on my way to Hartford.
Lorelai: You're a regular Jack Kerouac.
Damn dirty hippies! I can't imagine the amount of traveling and "finding myself" I would do if I didn't have to work. But that aside, I actually did enjoy reading this book. The gusto with which Sal, Dean and all their friends live is inspiring. The desire to soak up every moment of this one life we're given and to experience all of the people around us really does make you want to jump into a car and just start driving... not knowing where you'll end up. Looking forward to meeting the amazing personalities that reside at your destination and make up the breath and pulse of that place.
On The Road was written within three weeks, inspired by a letter to Kerouac from his friend Neal Cassady. A notorious substance abuser, Kerouac authored this piece while "intoxicated" (read: cracked out on speed). In his drug frenzy, he was concerned that having to stop his thoughts to insert a new piece of paper into his typewriter, he taped all of the pages end to end so his writing would have that stream of consciousness feel that On The Road epitomizes. Jack Kerouac also decided to forego margins and paragraph breaks in an effort to capture all of his thoughts as soon as they came to him.
Although the characters in the book appeared to be unknowns, On The Road was autobiographical and it takes on a feel of importance once you learn the real identities of some of its raucous, bumbling characters. Most importantly, the narrator of On The Road is named Sal Paradise. Sal is Kerouac himself. The character that is most deeply analyzed in this tome is Dean Moriarty. Dean is a lost manic, spending his entire life searching for his father and an understanding of the world at large. The Dean character becomes even more interesting when you learn that he is based on Neal Cassady, author of The First Third and major player in the Beat movement. In addition to Kerouac and Cassady, Old Bull Lee is actually William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch (which was the book I resorted to at our cabin when Aldous met his untimely end. Still haven't finished it. But those who know me know I love a good story about drugs. So I'll come back to it again eventually). Carlo Marx is a caricature of Howl author, Allen Ginsberg. Gilmore girls fans are very familiar with the role Howl plays in the beginning of Rory and Jess's relationship. Therefore, keep posted for more about Ginsberg!
In the end, this was an enjoyable read. I find that the best characters in literature are ones that can instill a feeling of utter loathing, disdain or annoyance in its readers. I believe that likable characters are easy to write, it's the hard-to-like characters with flaws that show the true genius of an author. Kerouac achieved that for me in his Dean character. Although Dean wasn't a character born from Kerouac's own imagination, my reaction to his selfishness, passion and fickle-heartedness (I'm saying it's a word... just go with me here!) made me realize just how well Mr. Kerouac can describe a person's entire being. Apparently he did it so well, the Cassady family has expressed concern with how Neal was portrayed since On The Road was originally published. I think it might be a classic case of "the truth hurts".
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
This is obviously a Jess book. Forget the Howl connection, On The Road is a book I believe Jess would truly relate to and understand. I can picture Jess alive at the height of the Beat movement...constantly on the move to find his fellow life travelers. Hell, Jess even looks like Jack Kerouac, as evidenced below (ignore the suit)...
I hope you enjoyed my review of the first book on our journey through Stars Hollow. Keep posted for the review of book number two!