I know, another Kerouac review. But I did give fair warning… And his collection is one which deserves careful consideration, as I’ve said before there is so much more to Jack Kerouac than On The Road. In fact, know anything about Kerouac and you’ll know that it was On The Road that ruined the man, left him unable to leave the house because of his fame and unwanted title ‘King of the Beats.’ But this was never something he wanted, all he ever wanted was to be a great American novelist and here we arrive at the point in Kerouac’s life when he escapes to Big Sur, running from the world, and lost in a sea of depression and alcoholism.
The last Kerouac book I read being Desolation Angels, I was very saddened by the change in nature of the man from the free spirited individual travelling across America in On the Road. It was very clear that depression was beginning to take hold of him and it was upsetting to read about. What I had no idea was how much worse it would get. Big Sur is Kerouac struggling to stay alive and function in simple human capacities he is so badly in the grip of depression. I don’t say this lightly but it is one of the saddest books I have ever read. And this is certainly because it is real, it is not a sad fictional story but a true tale of a man battling with severe problems. This poignant passage sadly shows the extent of his daily problems:
‘Any drinker knows how the process works: the first day you get drunk is okay, the morning after means a big head but so you can kill that easy with a few more drinks and a meal, but if you pass up the meal and go on to another night’s drunk, and wake up to keep the toot going, and continue on to the fourth day, there’ll come one day when the drinks wont take effect because you’re chemically over-loaded and you’ll have to sleep it off but cant sleep any more because it was alcohol itself that made you sleep those last five nights, so delirium sets in – Sleeplessness, sweat, trembling, a groaning feeling of weakness where your arms are numb and useless, nightmares, (nightmares of death) …’
There is more though and it is gets worse. Kerouac feels like ‘a silly stranger goofing with other strangers for no reason far away from anything that ever mattered to me whatever that was.’ The only way for him to restore any balance to his life is through drinking because ‘I begin to feel extremely low as soon as last night’s alcohol wears off.’ Even the alcohol which he believes to be saving him cannot, he is at such turmoil with himself that he suffers paranoia and hallucinations rendering him unable to have serious personal relationships. All the woman he has a ‘relationship’ with during the book wants to do is settle down and marry him but he is unable to provide anything more than the odd sexual encounter surrounded by episodes of severe hopelessness.
In terms of adventure there is not much to this book, so if you are looking for On The Road style thrills this is not the one for you. However if you want to delve deep into the psyche of the troubled man it will no doubt fascinate you. The one constant is the relationship with Cody (Neal Cassady) which remains strong, and although Kerouac may be at war with himself his adulation of Cody remains (mostly); perfectly demonstrated as he surprises Kerouac and ‘suddenly, boom, the door of the cabin is flung open with a loud crash and a sudden burst of sunlight illuminates the room and I see an Angel standing arm outstretched in the door! – It’s Cody!’
Hints of classic Kerouac remain, but on the whole I feel this book to be more of a collector’s item, one which the fanatic should read but not the wannabe hipster longing to join in on conversations above your head. If this is you, then look elsewhere in the collection.
★★★★ Click here to buy Big Sur from Amazon