Big Sur

Big Sur

Book - 1992
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A poignant masterpiece of wrenching personal expression from the author of On the Road and The Dharma Bums

In this 1962 novel, Kerouac's alter ego Jack Duluoz, overwhelmed by success and excess, gravitates back and forth between wild binges in San Francisco and an isolated cabin on the California coast where he attempts to renew his spirit and clear his head of madness and alcohol. Only nature seems to restore him to a sense of balance. In the words of Allen Ginsberg, Big Sur "reveals consciousness in all its syntactic elaboration, detailing the luminous emptiness of his own paranoiac confusion."

Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 1992, c1962
ISBN: 9780140168129
Characteristics: vi, 241 p


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the gentle Kerouac, alcoholic, sweet, deranged. What can I say? He lost his cat.

Sep 01, 2010

The most tragic of Kerouac's books, Big Sur punches a hole in the idealism and the invulnerable adventure of his earlier autobiographical novels. Kerouac's now decidedly middle-aged Jack Duluoz hasn't written a book in four years (since the publishing of On The Road led to his sudden fame), there are reporters knocking at his door, and bohemian fans sleeping in his backyard. On the insistence of a friend who owns a Cabin in the titular region of California, Duluoz decides upon an indefinite retreat into the wilderness, only to find his patience for solitude to be limited by the very fame he was trying to flee.

Escaping from the forest to the wild streets of San Francisco turns out to be disastrous. Sucked into a world of endless party in a sea of middle-aged adolescents becomes a surprisingly dark exercise for Duluoz. Rather chillingly, he lays out in detail the precise method of sustaining a drinking binge, worked out to a science as, "any drinker knows how the process works." Old friends (who all seem to have managed emotionally better than our narrator) sprout up all over the place, and new friends, (who are mostly pretty flawed creatures) show a darker side and help mostly to drag Duluoz down.. This novel may be more an exploration of Kerouac's psyche than most of his works, but it's still dependant on the supporting cast, especially for moments of levity.

On the surface, everything feels the same, with joy-filled elements of The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, and of course On The Road clear in the writing--except that everything goes wrong: his attempt at hitchhiking doesn't work ("The last time I ever hitch hiked - And NO RIDES a sign."); he embarrasses his best friend Cody in front of his family; and embarks on a drinking binge from which he never quite escaped. That said, Big Sur has an ending with a message of hope stronger than anything else he's written, certainly proving that his Buddhist instincts are not yet gone.

The writing is very conventional as far as Kerouac's books go--which may disappoint fans of his unconventional and ever-changing style--but for good measure the book also includes a long abstract/sound poem written by the sea which is sadly not nearly as interesting as his other published poetry. The novel is very self-conscious, and openly references Kerouac's earlier books. As such, this is probably not a best first-read for a Kerouac initiate, as the strength and emotional impact of the novel depends largely on the formula being broken; however for those of those familiar with his work it is an invaluable addition to the Duluoz saga.


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Sep 23, 2013

Other: Release date November 1, 2013 (USA)

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