My Copy: 9780140042597
There are some things I can appreciate with this book, and others I just can’t grasp. I promised myself to get through at least 100 pages of any book I’m reading if I can’t quite get it.
Made it through page 123 before giving up.
I can appreciate the unique writing style, in the pacing of the story. The book itself is movement–going here, there, and everywhere. There’s something happening–or even a whole lot of “nothing” happening–on each page. I’ll give the book props in that it’s like a restless kid on the last day of school, eager to start summer but with hours to go.
The basic story–so to speak–is a young man and some friends he’s met who move around a lot. Sal (our POV) is kind of left behind and starts his journey to meet all his friends, going by bus, rail, hitchhiking, to various destinations around the United States and even Mexico. He meets all sorts of people, gets into and out of financial trouble, jobs, and women, and even makes new friends while losing others.
What exactly he’s searching for, beyond the basic sense of adventure I’m sure the “on the road” trips give him, I’m not sure. From what I can see, I’m not sure he knows, either.
I tried to like this book, and I’d heard about it for a long time. I’d heard references to it, and because of its iconic status in American literature, I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about.
Like I said, some things I can get, some things I can’t.
With the narrator, Sal, when everything was in his POV and there wasn’t much dialogue with other characters, I could follow the events because he’s basically reporting what’s going on. Keep in mind, I said “events,” not “story,” because I couldn’t figure out where the hell this book was trying to go–and I got tired of waiting for the end to come. I almost skipped to the end of the book, but I had a feeling that would leave me more confused.
I barely got the gist of the dialogue. Though the “written in 3-weeks in a drug-addled frenzy” myth has persisted over the years, I have to wonder if taking drugs would’ve made this book easier to digest. When Sal gets into speculating on someone’s real behavior or reporting what they’re saying, I’m lost because it’s a chaotic mess.
In some ways, he describes these people very simply in the moment. In others, it’s like they’re cardboard figures with 1 or 2 weird quirks to differentiate them from the rest. Casual name-dropping is rampant and I had to go back a few times to remember who so-and-so was…and good luck trying to remember the women when they come back in.
Sal goes back and forth with random snippets that reveal some of his life. We’re just kind of dropped into this guy’s head…why does he want to do what he’s doing? What’s his motivation? I had a hard time telling how well off this kid was–rich, upper middle class, what? What all was he trying to do?
If anything, I will say this book’s a good example of showing a character in the moment, full of inconsistencies and random thoughts (the way we are). Usually that’s frowned on in writing, just like writing every “ah” or “umm” or “like” that comes up in conversation would make one want to strangle you.
All in all, I guess I tried to understand the characters, but they were just too much and not enough at the same time. It felt as if they’re confusing the hell out of themselves just by breathing, and we’re experiencing that, too. There’s so little description as to who these people are and why they’re there.
If that was the goal, I guess the mission’s accomplished. But I couldn’t stick with it because the book felt like this: go on a trip on a whim, have crap happen, get in the dumps, go home, write, reminisce.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I guess I just can’t see it.
Who knows? Might be your cup of tea, too confusing to be mine (and I don’t like feeling like I need drugs to understand what’s going on, as some have suggested).