Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road hasn't aged well, and now resembles the old hippie uncle you run into at family reunions. He still spouts revolutionary slogans and wears his few remaining hairs in a long ponytail. But instead of feeling cutting edge, his dress and manner come across as a sad attempt to reclaim a misplaced youth. The truth is aging hipsters--and the aging books once aimed at the hip--are rarely ever that.
This doesn't mean On the Road wasn't influential. Without it there would be no American road trip genre in either literature or film (think Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise). But the book's racism and inane plot--go forth and rebel through drinks and drugs and prostitutes, and by going south to Mexico to do such things--makes reading the book painful. Add in how the prose which so shocked 1950's sensibilities is now laughable to read, and you have a book which fails to measure up to most of its fellow literary classics.
I understand my view is likely the minority among readers and critics. Still, I decided to blog about this after receiving an email the other day from a friend.
My friend, a writer who teaches at a respected university, was at a small party and casually mentioned his love of On the Road. As if on cue, a drunken frat boy chimed and said, "That's my favorite novel." Several of his drunk friends nodded. "Last time we went to Cancun, it was like we lived the book."
My friend said it felt like his world collapsed. As if he'd been suddenly confronted with absolute proof that someone had desecrated the shrine of his literary god. He babbled how he was pretty sure On the Road wasn't set in Cancun, at which point the frat boys wandered off in search of more drunken Kerouac-esque adventures.
I'm sure if Jack Kerouac was still alive, he'd need some serious drinks and drugs and sex to deal with the readers who are now so in love with his book.