I used to romanticize beatnik culture. I thought it was all like Shaggy in Scooby-Doo or like people in thick framed glasses drinking bitter coffee and reading poetry slams. I wanted to be a beatnik, or at least a hipster. Then, I read this book: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, published through Penguin Books.
I almost DNF’d the book, but I like to force myself to finish what I started. And though it was only 310 pages long, I only just made it to the ending after a grueling two weeks.
The reason I hate the book is not because of the lengthy prose and run-on sentences, nor the invention of nonsensical words. It was the racism and sexism so potent in every page, an appalling prejudice even for the time it was written. The idea of the book–two men continue to find each other throughout their life and go on road trips–sounds so appealing. But that’s until you find out those road trips are just a means to get drugs, booze, and sex despite them having wives back at home. What was even more disgusting was how the character Dean would ogle and try to get with girls as young as 13. (If that weren’t bad enough, Dean was at least 30 at this point.)
This novel is supposed to be the epitome of beat culture, a culture I used to think was cool for dismissing society, but after seeing the blatant disrespect and disregard for other people that these characters had, I found I could have no sympathy for them. The only characters I had sympathy for were the women in Sal’s and Dean’s lives, who ended up tossed aside as soon as they were done with them: Mary-Lou, Terry, Camille, Inez, I could probably go on.
I know the book was written in the fifties. I wasn’t expecting it to be progressive, and I knew there was the possibilities of certain words or remarks that are ignorant and outdated. However, the sheer amount of bigotry in the book is outrageous even for that time.
I’m afraid I have to give this classic 1 star.
Trailer for the movie version with Kristin Stewart here. No clue how good it is.