On the Road

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac
Publisher: Penguin Putnam
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Price: $17.00

Truman Capote dismissed On the Road as "just typing." Maybe he really felt that way, or maybe he was just upset that Jack Kerouac was able to take the genre he invented (the nonfiction novel—In Cold Blood is journalism as fiction) and make it better. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are made-up names, but the characters are Kerouac and Neal Cassady and their adventures reflect real-life exploits.

On the Road has been hailed as the Bible of the Beat Generation, the proto-hippie manifesto, a celebration of nihilism, a lyric prose poem about the emptiness of materialism and the joy of rootlessness. It is all of those things, but mostly it's the chronicle of two young men looking for the right way, two drifters terrified of meeting Death but certain that before too long they will.

Sal and Dean cross the American continent more than once, never still, never alone with their thoughts but never able to stop reflecting, as free as the road, imprisoned by the road, on the road. The absence of a definite plot reflects the memoir element of the novel and demonstrates that without restrictions a man's life becomes fragmented and hard to translate.

Everything you'd expect from a couple of young roués is here—the young protagonists get in fights, take drugs, have sex, act cool, and experience angst as they look for something they can't name. In the end it's the road itself they want, the movement, the lawlessness, the connectedness, the sense of reaching a destination without really getting anywhere.

If this really is just typing, it's some of the best typing ever done by an American. Kerouac wrote poetry which wasn't very good—the prose of On the Road is both poetic and good, and reminds us of the terrors, the beauty, the sorrows of the modern world. It reminds us that the road is a gentle mother and a frightening master. It reminds us of the America we love, the America we hate, and the Dream of freedom that unites us all even while driving us further apart.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Language, sexuality
Summary: Two young men chase life experiences and the meaning of America while hitchhiking and stealing cars all across the United States.

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