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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a much lauded novel published in 1957 that relates the travels of the protagonist across the United States based, to some degree, on the experiences of the author.  Unfortunately, it's another book that I just couldn't connect with.  To me, On the Road was, first and foremost, a portrayal of the characters.  I might even go so far as to say that it had no plot.  It's not about what happens to the characters, really, but how they respond to those things and develop as individuals.



As someone who has lived for at least a month in over a dozen states, countries or territories, one might think that I would empathize with characters whose primary trait seems to be wanderlust, but that was not the case. I'm someone who doesn't embark on any kind of meaningful trip without having a fairly substantial plan for how it's going to go.  Apart from airline issues, I don't think I've ever traveled without knowing exactly where I was going to sleep each night, and I don't mean I would have plans to stay in or around a certain city, I mean that I would have confirmed bookings with specific hotels or plans to stay with a specific person. So when a character heads out to hitchhike from coast to coast with $50 in his pocket, that isn't something that I can easily relate to.  Naturally I felt affirmed in my feelings when he ends up where he started 24 hours later because he had no idea what he was doing.

It wasn't just the manner of travel that insulated me from the characters.  They would make decisions and take risks for little or no reason.  Their plans seemed to largely revolve around things friends had casually mentioned or commitments by people that they knew they couldn't rely on.  Once again the characters emotions and motives seemed alien to me.  This hasn't been an uncommon occurrence on my list of books that are considered classics or must reads.  I don't know if it's the difference in time or a lack in my ability to read critically and appreciate themes or other factors that might be going over my head.  It's certainly not a bad book, but from an enjoyment standpoint if you don't care about the characters there's very little to make you want to keep reading.

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