Currently Reading: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Prior to reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, my exposure to the novel was limited – sadly – to dialogue on an episode of one of my most watched TV shows, Gilmore Girls. In the episode, There’s the Rub, the audience enters into a scene to find three characters (Rory, Paris, and Jess) engaged in a lively debate about literature with Paris declaring, “A tragic waste of paper.” Over Jess’s protestations, she continues saying, “Well it’s true. The Beats’ writing was completely self-indulgent. I have one word for Jack Kerouac: edit.” (Transcription for the episode found: http://www.gilmoregirls.org/eguide/transcripts/episode216.html, but with corrected grammar because I can’t help myself.)
While I’ve watched this episode at least twenty or so times, I had never read Kerouac and so did not fully appreciate this conversation until I read On the Road.
Holy cow is Paris right!
The discovery of just how valid Paris’s statement is was especially disappointing because I had such high hopes for the novel. As someone who has been bitten by the travel bug and thus has contracted the incurable disease of wanderlust, I thought for sure I would relate to and love these characters as their actions are guided by that same disease. For the first hundred or so pages, I was hooked, thrilled to have an author write characters who understand that burning sensation within oneself to go and see and do!
But things quickly started to turn.
Because ultimately, Paris is right. The book gets incredibly repetitive as the characters only ever do the same things over and over again. They drive, they drink, they sleep with and impregnate random women, they fight, and they scrounge for money until they absolutely have to go back to working for a bit before doing it all over. While I relate to the desire to constantly want to be somewhere else and see new places, I couldn’t relate to the characters past that. They have no goals, no focus, and almost no morals. Not exactly people with whom I would want to spend my time. It’s a self-indulgent lifestyle and because the book reads almost like a diary instead of a novel, the writing also comes across as self-indulgent. Kerouac puts every thought and detail he wants to put in, never mind how relevant or interesting it is. He simply writes with seemingly no thought given to his audience.
Again, for about a hundred pages, none of these things are that bothersome. But for three-hundred pages? It gets tedious quickly and frustrating when it becomes apparent that Kerouac has no intention of creating any plot arch whatsoever. The extra details make the repetitive action drag further and eventually I found myself desperately wishing that someone would just take the main character’s car keys away from him so the whole journey could end.
It’s small wonder that most of the friends I know who have read On the Road have never actually finished it.
So take some advice from Paris, Mr. Kerouac, and please for the love of God, edit!