50 years ago this month On The Road was published. This is a novel close to my heart. There is a certain romanticism of being on the road, between destinations. It’s a mixture of feelings of freedom and emptiness that is hard to explain.
But On The Road is much more than that. A review of this classic, by Louis Menand, is published in this week’s New Yorker that helped me see deeper into the book and why I love it. If you are at all interested in this book or Jack Kerouac or the Beats, I encourage you to take the time to read this article. The author explains that the term “Beat” came to describe a certain generation. It is traced back to a conversation between Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes in which Jack stated, “You know, this is really a beat generation.” In this description he meant beaten down, poor, exhausted, at the bottom of the world. The review goes on to underscore the significance of On The Road and the influence this work had on American Litterature.
Menand writes, “The sadness that soaks through Kerouac’s story comes from the certainty that this world of hoboes and migrant workers and cowboys and crazy joyriders—the world of Neal Cassady and his derelict father—is dying. But the sadness is not sentimentality, because many of the people in the book who inhabit that world would be happy to see it go or else are too drunk or forlorn to care.”
Menand calls Jack, “a poet and a failed mystic.” He also states the Beats were not rebels, but misfits.
But what Menand ultimately identifies as the genius of Kerouac’s work is his ability to convey a sensitive masculinity. He writes, “It is sensitive and it is earnest, a performance of one of the most difficult emotions to express, male vulnerability.”
This might be the real reason I love this book. I feel my friends and I can identify with these same characters as we ramble across the weird American outback.