|Ken Kesey (l) and Jack Kerouac (r)|
A few months ago I picked up a copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I finished a couple of weeks ago and, enamored of his writing, sought to get my hands on a copy of his other well-known novel, Sometimes A Great Notion. In fact, my very own Neal Cassady, Keith Fisher, challenged me to read the "seldom-read other" Kesey novel when he saw I had read Cuckoo's Nest. Being the weekend, I couldn't borrow it from the local library (it's only open a bit on Saturday morning). Searching around the house for something to read in the interval, I happened upon A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway. That took me a week or so to finish, and now I am 237 pages into the 628 pages of Notion.
The first 100 pages or so was a hard slog. I just wasn't getting into it, partly because I couldn't follow all the time-jumping and narrator switching. Once I got used to that, I began to give a shit about the Stamper family drama and what was going to happen with all of that. Now I think I'll likely finish it.
What does that have to do with Jack Kerouac? Well, he and Kesey were no strangers to each other. Kerouac apparently praised Cuckoo's Nest when it came out (Kerouac: His Life and Work, 2004, Paul Maher Jr., p. 422). Readers of The Daily Beat need no reminder that Kerouac's muse, Neal Cassady, became the driver of Kesey's bus, Further, carrying the Merry Pranksters around the country turning people on to LSD. In Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (1983, p. 653), Gerald Nicosia recounts the time that the Pranksters came to NYC and Kesey wanted to meet Kerouac. Jack agreed to come to one of the Prankster parties and was dismayed at their treatment of American flags (wearing them, sitting on them. It was less than an epic encounter. The two only ever met this one time (you can read about it from Sterling Lord's perspective here).
What you might not know is that Kesey name-drops Kerouac on page 227 of Sometimes A Great Notion (this is narrator Lee speaking of his family home in Oregon to which he has recently returned):
'This is a land for childhood frolic, with forests dark and magical and shady sloughs alive with chubs and mud-puppies, a land in which young and snub-nosed Dylan Thomas would have gamboled, red-cheeked and raucous as a strawberry, a town where Twain could trade rats and capture beetles, a chunk of wild beautiful insane America tha Kerouac could have gud a good six or seven novels' worth . . . '
So there you have it: a Kerouac encounter in a Kesey novel.
Now, did Jack ever mention Kesey in a novel? That's your homework assignment.