Big Sur, Jack Kerouac, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1962, 212 pp
Read from my 1962 reading list, this is the third Kerouac novel I have read. (The Road, Dharma Bums are the others.) I am even more impressed.
Don't get me wrong, it is not a happy book. In fact, it is the most disturbing of the three. But his power to describe: the natural world, the intricacies of friendship, the inner life. And the sheer propulsive energy of the writing. Finally, he captured in all these books a lost era, the Beat generation, an important, if under-the-radar, element of American society. If it had not been important he would not have become so famous.
But in Big Sur, he paints the life of an author ruined by fame, having a major identity crisis, and driving himself deeper and deeper into depression. Also he is clearly in the grip of the alcoholism that will send him to an early grave-he died at age 47.
I know there are those who decry any writing done under the influence of alcohol and probably they are right. Even more then the wonder of this writer who could so vividly write the experience.
Throughout the novel he alludes to a breakdown he had, while telling of all the weeks leading up to it, as he careens back and forth from a cabin in Big Sur to San Francisco, from solitude to being surrounded by people, from moments when he transcends his existential anguish to the depths of depression. The pages where he describes the actual hours of his breakdown felt true and real to me. And then, overnight, he is fine.
I don't know what that ability is, to recall and record moments from drunkenness and psychic meltdown so accurately. Certainly not an ability that promotes a stable or happy life. But if, as mental practitioners claim, memories are lost in blackouts and during madness, Jack Kerouac belies that theory.
(Big Sur is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)