If you’re interested in an intriguing read this summer and either have read Kerouac’s earlier novels or are familiar with his life story, Big Sur should be included on your summer reading list. I was excited to read this novel, especially after reading some of Kerouac’s more popular novels such as On the Road and Dharma Bums that emphasize Kerouac’s never ending search for “it”. But different from his other novels, Big Sur explains Kerouac’s trouble with accepting his fame after publishing On the Road, being dubbed “The King of the Beats” and beginning to realize that he may never find what he’s been searching for. Little did most of Kerouac’s younger admirers realize was that Kerouac was in his late thirties when he published On the Road, no longer the man in his mid-twenties when the events had taken place in the novel; “all over America highscool and college kids thinking ‘Jack Duluoz is 26 years old and on the road all the time hitch hiking’ while there I am almost 40 years old, bored and jaded in a roomette bunk cabin across that Salt Flat” (3).
Big Sur takes place during 1961 when Kerouac felt trapped by his popularity in the Beat Generation. Kerouac decides to take a vacation to Big Sur, Northern California where his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers) has a cabin, tucked away from the outside world. This is a perfect opportunity for Kerouac to escape his unwanted recognition; “It’s the first trip I’ve taken away from home (my mother’s house) since the publication of “Road” the book that “made me famous” and in fact so much so I’ve been driven mad for three years by endless telegrams, phonecalls, requests, mail, visitors, reporters, snoopers (a big voice saying in my basement window as I prepare to write a story: — ARE YOU BUSY?)” (2). When Kerouac finally arrives in Big Sur for the third time, he is with Neal Cassady’s (the famous Dean Moriarty in On the Road and known as Cody Pomeray in Big Sur) mistress Billie. This was not unusual for Jack and Neal and many times they would “switch off” girlfriends, etc. When reading this novel I was fascinated yet sorrowful of Jack’s life at the time, knowing that he would continue to destroy his life with alcohol and that his vacations would do him no good. Also, it is obvious that there was a strained friendship between Jack and Neal, Neal showing his jealousy towards Jack when he was with Billie, even though it was his idea for Jack to see her. Jack also seems tormented by Billie’s forcefulness into marriage, yet Jack keeps her around, although he seems annoyed by her. I could describe this novel all day but what’s the point? Read it yourself. It is only 212 pages and I read it in one day!