On Reading ‘Big Sur’

Posted in Kerouac, Writers at 8:14 am by Marion

At 8:30 p.m. last night I took to bed with my copy of “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac and by 9:30 p.m. it was over.

Those last pages are unbearable, not only for what happens, but because of his profound emotions. He hooks up with one of “Cody’s” (Neal C.) girlfriends in San Francisco, starts drinking nonstop and sits in a chair at her apartment for a solid week. The goldfish die, the chair breaks and everything heads south.

When you think things can’t get worse, he invites her to the cabin, with her son and another couple. You can see how it’s going to go.

Though he’s clear that he’s the deluded one, there is real horror to the situation. The lady friend is a poor mom to her little boy, and in that 50s way she probably can’t be. The little boy represents this unspoken fear of abandonment, as he cries, whines, and torments Kerouac. Meanwhile, his friends are trying to cheer him up, but all he can see is sadness.

He becomes the Phantom of the Opera … once they arrive at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin, you can tell he just wants to be alone … and drunk … his head clears for a while but DTs erupting, he has a full-blown crisis, impossible for him to grasp the ax to cut wood, visions starting.

He remembers his first tranquil, blessed three weeks at the cabin, and those memories come back like a nightmare. The blue jays he fed each day are now harpies; the creek water tastes like kerosene; he believes his friends are trying to poison him. Indeed, the devil walks among them and is trying to send him to hell.

The last night there, he tries to sleep in the yard, but the full moon menaces him, images taunt him. When at last he falls asleep, it is to a vision of a cross.

…when dawn finally comes my mind is just a series of explosions that get louder and more “multiply” broken in pieces some of them big orchestral and then rainbow explosions of sound and sight mixed … the little boy somehow thumped his foot just at the moment of drowse, to instantly wake me up, wide awake, back to my horror which when all is said and done is the horror of all the worlds … being damn well what I deserve anyway with my previous blithe yakkings about the sufferings of others in books ….

TOMORROW: The music of “Big Sur”

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