Review by Shwetha H S
Genre: Beat generation, nonfiction, memoir
Imprint: Penguin Modern Classics
On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s novel that tells you about the road trip that Salvatore Paradise takes along with Dean Moriarty across the country of USA. Jack Kerouac belongs to the beat generation, the generation that prized the life of leaving on one’s own terms rather than by society norms. On the Road is the story of the author himself but the names of the characters in the story are changed. Jack Kerouac becomes Salvatore (Sal) Paradise and Neal Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty.
The book is in five parts. The first part sees Sal meeting Dean, not liking him much at first and later missing him and going off on a cross-country hitchhiking trip from New York to Denver to meet the later. Sal is a writer and Dean is a car thief. Sal sees Dean and Carlo Marx, a common friend, get high and talk their hearts out. Dean is in the process of divorcing his first wife Marylou and marrying Camille. Sal leaves Dean and others, and goes to San Francisco to be with his childhood friend, Remi, and his wife, Lee Ann. Lee married Remi thinking he is a wealthy man, but he is a night watchman at a sailors’ camp. He gets Sal a similar job. Both rob things from others to make a better living, but eventually blow things up. On his way back to New York, Sal meets Terry, a Mexican girl who has left her harassing husband and come out with her child. Sal and Terry fall in love and stay together for some time, but he eventually leaves her and comes back to New York. Part two shows what happened a year later. Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel come to pick Sal from his relatives’ place in Virginia, and go off again on a road trip to New Orleans and to San Francisco. Dean has left Camille with his new born daughter and come back to Marylou. Ed Dunkel is a lost soul. On this road trip, Dean comes up with creepy things making Sal uneasy. Once they reach San Francisco, Dean leaves Sal and Marylou stranded without money and food, and goes back to Camille. Disheartened with both Dean and Marylou, Sal leaves them and comes back to New York. Part three sees Sal going in search of Dean again a year after leaving him. Sal misses Dean and the excited life that comes along with the later. By then, Marylou is married to someone else. Seeing Sal with Dean, Camille is assured that the duo will again go away leaving her pregnant with the second child and to look after the first one, and she throws Dean and Sal out of their house. They both decide to go to Italy after reaching New York. On the way, Dean creates havoc and steals many cars for the sake of having fun. Sal and Dean quarrel for the first time. After reaching New York, Dean meets Inez and decides to marry her after he divorces Camille. Fourth part has Sal, Dean and Stan driving to Mexico to start a new life. The usual dope and girl chasing happens. Sal falls sick due to dysentery. Dean leaves him with Stan in that condition because his divorce from Camille came through and he is in a hurry to marry Inez and give her a child. Sal starts to hate Dean. Part five shows Sal falling in love with Laura, and Dean coming into their lives briefly and exiting again.
On the Road is not a story, but is an experience. It is not about bromance but about brotherhood. Sal wants to live an excitement filled life and thinks Dean has and can provide him one. Dean is a car thief who steals cars for fun, but likes to make a living in a decent way. Marylou, Camille and Inez are Dean’s wives. Of all of them, he loved Marylou more and keeps going back to her. Sal knows that Dean is a prick but still loves his company. Since the characters are the real life ones, there is not much of a character development.
This book gives a lot of insight about the beat generation. This generation lived as if there was no tomorrow. Work less, party hard. Dopes, sex, road trips, cars, parties and booze are what made that generation happy. The book is written is simple language using simple narration. It is not quite what I expected, but it did not disappoint me either. The experiences of Sal on the road with four trips are overwhelming and the emotions he goes through are a lesson for life. I might recommend it to the readers who want to read something on the road trips.
In the cover picture of the book, you see Jack Kerouac (Sal Paradise) on the left and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty) on the right.