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A small review of the book Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac.

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac is the best book about addiction that I've read. High School teachers do their students a great disservice by requiring them to read On the Road and not Big Sur. What you walk away from On the Road with is a romantic sense of the beat lifestyle. What Big Sur gives you is the bad liver, the delirium tremens, and the psychic toll that was the end result of too much 'consciousness expansion'. In Big Sur, poor old fat Jack can't even hitchhike anymore.

It makes sense to review Big Sur on a blog about disillusionment (in the positive sense; freedom from illusion; everything in the medicine cabinet has expired), and it make sense that it should be reviewed by a hardcore HP Lovecraft fan, because essentially it is a horror book. Kerouac describes paranoid fears and unknown nightmare vistas as good as Lovecraft, if not better.

In Big Sur, Kerouac is desperately clinging to the remaining threads of a hollow religion. During his moments of despair he lets go from time to time and reaches to another hollow religion--Roman Catholicism--and even this one provides little consolation. Because all religions are hollow, essentially. That's what makes them so adaptable. Every one of them can fit every one of us at different times, depending on the situations and impulses we find ourselves saddled with. Their meaningfulness is derived from their meaninglessness; once you leap inside, you can pretend anything you want.

Kerouac suffered from the disease of alcoholism, and wherein many folks use their religion as a tool with which to escape the disease, he used his to dig himself deeper into it. Addiction hollows you out. Maybe that's why so many recovering addicts find solace in religion; their disease has created a vast emptiness inside of them, and what better thing to start rebuilding with than the malleable material of religion. There is just enough structure in any religion to allow a person to feel comfortable, but after that, the relationship becomes a dance.

I don't say these things lightly, or with scorn. I am a recovering addict, and a recovering christian. I have seen the permutations of each. I understand what it feels like to be 'born again', in both the sense of a person recommitting or committing themselves to Christ, and of the person waking up the next day after a night of heavy drinking. I have only glimpsed the horrors that engulfed Jack Kerouac, who was really a beautiful man if what he wrote reflected reality. He was a beautiful, tragic, sensitive person--a pulsing nerve exposed to the universe--who never had a chance to catch his breath. Big Sur breaks your heart.


Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Thu Apr 26, 2012 at 04:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, Readers and Book Lovers, and Street Prophets .

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