“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, that I didn’t know who I was…I was far away from home haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared, I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost… I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then that strange red afternoon.”
Much has already been said about the modern masterpiece that is On the Road but I barely know anything about it before finally being given a copy as a birthday gift. I’ve been a book fan since forever and my usual choice of books usually revolve on horror, science fiction, fantasy and whatnots. I’ve never picked up a book about travelling even once, not knowing such kinds of books exists at all.
So there I was, giddy as a highschool kid, after finally having my hand on the rough covers of On the Road after more than a year of looking for it. I usually read in the bus on the way to and from work, and imagine my surprise when I opened the pages and found a never-ending flow of texts inside.
It turned out that what I got was the original draft of the book which was written in scroll form. Legend tells of Kerouac taping up separate pieces of paper to form one magnanimous scroll before typing everything his crazed brain tells his manic fingers in a mad frenzy of a few weeks.
What came out was literally a road of words that sprawls on and on. The sentences were epically long, there were no paragraphs, there were hardly any chapters and there were no breaks. Everything flowed like the road Jack was telling us about, you can never stop. This book is an English teacher’s nightmare.
The book tells about Jack’s trips through the groaning land of the Americas, his friendship with the wildly maniacal Neil, the relations he met along the road, the craziness and the loneliness that accompanied him along his journey, and the longing to find IT.
On the Road is not a guidebook on how to do road trips. Kerouac writes about how a road breaks and makes a person, he writes with no gold frills how crazy and desolate the road can be.
The cliché it’s the trip not the destination cannot be truer than with this book. Don’t get me wrong though, the book is hardly clichéd. It doesn’t talk about tourist destinations, or snapping pictures or beautiful places, it talks only of going and moving; screaming through the highways and passing everyone and everything along the road. You’d never find a more refreshing read than this. The road slams through the pages of the book like Neil’s broken down Cadillac howling through the starlit American night at a steady 110 miles per hour.
I have never read a crazier book than On the Road, and it only got crazier with the scroll edition which was how Kerouac intended it be read in the first place.
”But then they danced down the street like dingldodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.”
** Words in italics are quotes lifted from the book.