In the end, On the Road turned out to be more wild and poetic than the first dozen or so chapters suggested. Based on Kerouac's own early travels with Neal Cassidy, this chronicle of Sal Paradise's cross country adventures evokes a newfound awe and curiosity for the vast American nation, of which the average person only gets to experience a small part. He bisects these great Northern soils from East to West, leaving New York for Denver, Denver for San Francisco and back again, not once, but twice, accompanied by an ever-changing posse of friends, women and sometimes strangers. Sal is the quietly thoughtful and curious type, possessed from time to time by a need to experience what the world has to offer, which leads him to take to the road. Usually these trips are spurred by the beckon of Sal's wild friend, Dean Moriarty. Dean is a mad hurricane of passion and enthusiasm, ravaged by the need to experience "it" (something he never quite manages to explain) and is utterly revered by his friends. Never in one place for long, he wanders from city to city, person to person, restless and unfulfilled.
But as the book progresses and the years start to pass, it is Dean's poetic justice to remain stuck as a drifter, running in place while his friends move on to land jobs and families. Sal is the only one who seems to truly understand him and follows him faithfully even when the rest lose patience for his maniacal ways. In the end, Sal's narration leaves us with the sense that Dean is really the loneliest of them all, consumed by his wayward lifestyle.
Both in substance and structure, On the Road is beautifully written. It uncovers the shrouded cavities of America's most iconic cities and lifestyles, while simultaneously exploring the nature of its various peoples. The text mimics a stream-of-consciousness, words and descriptions flying by the reader as trees and cities do the winding American highway. Talented as he is, Kerouac's writing evokes a sense of nostalgia for something that I haven't even personally experienced.
Some favorite lines:
"Oh the sadness of the lights that night! The young pitcher looked just like Dean. A pretty blonde in the seats looked just like Marylou. It was the Denver Night; all I did was die." 180
"Pretty soon the redness turned purple, the last of the enchanted rivers flashed by, and we saw distant smokes of Chicago beyond the drive. We had come from Denver to Chicago via Ed Wall's ranch, 1180 miles, in exactly seventeen hours, not counting the two hours in the ditch and three at the ranch and two with the police in Newton, Iowa, for a mean average of seventy miles per hour across the land, with one driver. Which is kind of a crazy record" 238
"The old car burned and bopped and struggled on. Great clouds of gritty wind blew at us from shimmering spaces" 270
"Laredo was a sinister town that morning. All kinds of cab-drivers and border rats wandered around, looking for opportunities. There weren't many; it was too late. It was the bottom and dregs fo America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to of to be near a specific elsewhere they an slip into unnoticed." 273