Big Sur is a stretch of California’s coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Driving along the State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the often-misty coastline is quite captivating. I visited California in 2014, on a long awaited trip to the USA. Part of the plan was always to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the coast, stopping off at a few little towns along the way like San Simeon and Monterey.
Monterey has literary fame as it was once a major player in the ‘canning’ industry (canning fish), and written about by Steinbeck. Now it’s holiday town, full of gift shops, restaurants, and people jogging along the beach. I loved Monterey. I didn’t care so much for ‘Of Mice and Men’ by Steinbeck though!
Before we went to America, a friend lent me Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, mainly for his description of the terrifying bridge high up over the water. Well, in the end it was dark when we drove through much of it, and I never got around to reading the book. Well actually, I tried but got bored quite quickly. But it was on my to-read pile so I tried it again…I was right the first time!
Kerouac’s stream of consciousness style was hard to follow at times (especially as his consciousness was drunk most of the time). Tired of his Beat fame following the success of ‘On The Road’, he decides to spend a quiet six weeks in his friend’s cabin in Big Sur. Things don’t go to plan right from the start, as he fails to secretly return to San Fransisco as he ends up loudly announcing his arrival and going on a bender. His self-destructive nature is, I suppose, what makes him interesting to people, I found it tiresome.
He does spend three quiet weeks alone in the cabin, feeding squirrels and writing boring poetry about the sea. But the isolation offers him too much time to think and he starts to crack. He heads back to the ‘gooky city’, meeting his friends again and heading out on another bender. He gets word from his mother than his cat has died, a cat that he strongly associates with his late brother and he is plunge into a fresh depression.
He ends up heading back to the cabin but this times with friends and their kids. Before they have to leave for a children’s play which Kerouac gets them thrown out of for being drunk. But his friend Cody doesn’t mind and takes him to meet his mistress. Which brings me to the misogynistic undertones running through the book.
…beautiful blonde wife of his in her tight blue jeans that makes Dave say ‘Yum yum’…
The book was written in 1963 and so is a product of it’s time, sure I get that. But all the men have mistresses, and share their women about. Cody encourages some young idiot to join him wife on the beach, much to her general irritation about having men and sex forced on her. There are a few nice stories about dancing girls. I just felt a wave of sadness for the women in this book, stuck in marriages to drunken, idiot, philanderers.
Anyway, Kerouac meets Billie (the mistress) and they have an immediate mutual attraction, although he finds her equally fascinating and boring it would seem. He spends the days sitting in her arm chair smoking and drinking while she is at work, and they spend the nights having sex. She has a young son who occasionally wanders into the bedroom and she thinks it’s fine for him to watch. Karouac, to his sort of credit, is a bit creeped out by this, but goes along with it anyway. Later on, they go back to the cabin and the poor child tries to pull his mother of Kerouac so she takes him outside and beats him. Good, cheerful, stuff. She also has a delightful friend, who creeps onto little girls and threatens to kid nap them.
Basically, I would just really hate to be stuck in a lift with any of them…I was very curious as to how much of this actually happened. Like, really, how messed up is the little kid in the book now, and does he enjoy reading about he flaky mum’s affair with Jack Kerouac? A quick google tells em the names were changed, but it also tells me the characters real names so screw you anonymity! I assume he took some liberties with the truth as this is a ‘fictionalised autobiography’. I don’t think Beat literature is for me.