Tim Tan Huynh

On the Road

  • 15 Jun 2020
  • This 1957 novel is hailed as a literary classic and cultural landmark, but it's not something that I've enjoyed reading from start to finish.
On the Road scroll
Jack Kerouac famously wrote his book on a scroll. It was bought by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, for $2.43 million in 2001.

I’ve finally read Jack Kerouac’s famous novel after having tried to read it a couple of times over the past several years. I haven’t had the conviction to read the entire thing until this period of social distancing and mandated quarantines. I bought a digital version for a cheap price, and I was intrigued by the context of its development, but I was mostly disappointed with On the Road.

I knew of Kerouac and his stream-of-consciousness style of writing from various sources: they included a copywriting instructor, a job posting, and a Mad Men episode. I sensed that he was a generational writer and that I should read his breakthrough work. For me, his style isn’t the flowing prose that I’d expected. It isn’t enjoyable to read like, for example, Jarhead by Anthony Swofford.

I think that, subconsciously, I had wanted to read about a singular journey across the less-travelled roads of America. I believe that everybody, including me, fantasizes about the ultimate, epic trip on the long, open road. On the Road is more about multiple trips and the periods of waiting between them. Dean Moriarity is certainly a memorable character; he’s the quintessential charismatic bad boy.

His whimsical nature wears thin by the end, though, both in my view and in the characters’ views, and I suppose that’s the point: sooner or later, everybody needs to settle down. The book is mostly a chore to read because of its length and Kerouac’s style, which disregards the editorial process. Sal’s hitchhiking with the Minnesota brothers and his consorting with Terry are my favorite parts of the book.

The climactic part is interesting because, instead of going west across the US yet again, Sal and Dean go to Mexico with some other guy. This part was suspenseful because I thought that something life-altering might happen to Dean and, in turn, to Sal. Nothing of that sort happens, but the prospect of it makes this final trip engaging to read. The ending is bittersweet, but I don’t know if this last fifth of the book makes up for everything before it.