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This is one of the few books I've read more than once. I read it at 18, and I wanted to be Jack Kerouac. I read it at 25 and I wanted to pack my job in, buy an old banger and drive across Europe. I read it at 30, along with the rest of Kerouac's work, and felt sad that Kerouac had written so little and died so young. But it still made me want to hit the road in search of adventure.
I just listened to it again (I'm in my late 30s now), and the magic, turned up by Matt Dillon's pitch perfect narration, is still there. I simply cannot read or listen to this book, now or ever, and not find myself charged with a sense of adventure, of the sheer endless scope of the possible, of the tragedy of all the people and things in the world that I will never meet and see.
It also contains my single favourite passage of prose, ever: "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars".
Don't yawn. Don't be commonplace. Listen to this book and burn, burn, burn!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Maybe I missed the point of this entirely and there were some beautiful thoughts and moments, some of which will stick with me but really this was just an endless dull tale.
It was really a long ramble which could end with an apologetic 'guess you had to be there' as we follow Sal (Kerouac) on his journeys frequently in search of or joined by Dean (Cassady) this, for me, was unfortunate because I could not stand Dean, he came across as terrible human being in whom Sal is completely disillusioned. I much preferred the cameos from other beats but was instead dragged along with Sal and Dean.
As I said I may be missing the point entirely but the discovery of self was really just a glorified bumming across the country avoiding any sense of responsibility and that got tiring quickly, this is the most effort I've experienced in trying to finish a book in a long long time.
I have long meant to read this book but I had resisted in case it didn't live up to its legendary status. In the end, I think it was the fact that Matt Dillon was to narrate it that persuaded me to take the plunge. I now feel vindicated on two scores; first, the legend is alive and well and, secondly, Dillon was a terrific narrator.
There's no point spending too much time on the plot. The listener needs to experience it with Sal Paradise, with the words blowing through your mind like wind through your hair and the drug of sex and excitement invading your imagination like the drugs that invade Sal's system. It is the seminal "Road" tale populated with huge characters like Dean Moriarty and Marylou, his "little sharp chick", the Frenchman poet, Remi, Carlo Marx (poet and adulterer), Montana Slim and "Big Ed" Dunkel. Sal, it seems, is a metaphor for Kerouac and you can trace the rest of the characters through the many reminiscences written about this work by the characters themselves. But, in my opinion, the story is not the main thing. It's the living of it that makes it eternal. I found it a bit like looking back on a fond, but now past, phase of my life (not that my was ever as eventful as Sal's). It has that intimate feel of your own personal memories. I wrote a lot of notes about it to write this review, but most of them are just not important enough to mention, although they seemed important at the time. Again, these are like the events in the book.
Returning to Dillon, really there is not much to say. He captures the book's racy sexuality, the atmosphere of a jazz age and and a youth that was looking for something that is too elusive to capture. There were times when he brought to mind Springsteen ("Lost in the Flood", "Backstreets") and at other times Van Morrison ("Coney Island"). Musical and noisy.
I enjoyed this journey.