Two more in the series. I read most of Geek Sublime but closed it after Vikram Chandra went deep into the arcana of Sanskrit/Indian lit. I’m still enjoying The Language of Food. It’s a series of non-fiction mystery stories with each solution creating more mysteries. Plus it’s got terrific, if arcane, recipes. But of course I had to forge ahead.
So I watched, and am now reading, On the Road. The breathless and severely truncated film offers decent performances by Sam Riley as the Jack Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as the demented Neal Cassady aka Dean Moriarty with serviceable showings by Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen as the William S. Burroughs stand-in Old Bull Lee. The film solves the problem of writerly inaction (no one wants to watch someone scribbling in a notebook or pounding on a typewriter) with few scenes of Sal actually writing. And of course each one is accompanied by chain smoking and frequent gulps from a glass of whiskey. The real star of the film is the road – long stretches of open space beautifully filmed. These scenes of course showcase Kerouac’s poetry.
So then I borrowed the book, which I read years ago. Part of the motive: it’s on Bowie’s top 100 list. The print version is more breathless than the film. Kerouac’s language is searing, capturing the rhythms of the blues and hard bop in New York, along with the drawn-out languor of the men on the truck who take him across the mid-West to Cheyenne. In the book version, the road plays a supporting role to the power of the people that Sal encounters on his voyages and captures in molten amber before it hardens around the flies.