©1962 by Jack Kerouac; (P)1998 by Blackstone Audiobooks
Parker is an excellent reader.
Big Sur is a monologue, a descent into Kerouac's alcoholic Inferno. Kerouac could only write this having come out of it--for a time--but while I listened to Parker speaking to me in Kerouac's voice, I too felt the need for some stability, some sense of permanence in this all too hectic world.
And while Robinson Jeffers is the better Big Sur poet ("Continent's End" et. al.), this novel elicits the state of mind of an unstable man coming into this landscape to be nearly wholly worn down by the rhythms of the sea, the landscape, humanity and his own disease.
There is humor here too, but I responded strongly to the tragic elements in Parker's evocative reading of this powerful book.
(Parker really gets Cody's voice, just like he got McMurphy's in Kesey's novel--they're similar characters. I can't wait for him to record Visions of Cody.)
Jack Kerouacs prose, like that of James Joyce, gets into your head and races over the reticulations and slaloms down the grooves kicking up powder everywhere. Once you have tasted his best work there is no going back to the safety of the restrained and structured prose of Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, and Hemingway. Big Sur is arguably one of Kerouacs best novels. It documents the personal crests and troughs between his initial fame that catapults him into the limelight and a downhill slide to what eventually becomes a self-destructive, terminal binge. It takes a much brighter look at his experience tower sitting on Desolation Peak than does Desolation Angels. Tom Parkers narration does justice to both the pace and tone of Kerouacs voice. Leave your slippers and smoking jacket at home and put on your walking shoes. Big Sur is waiting just over the edge of the Pacific bluffs.
This novel is sometimes mistakenly viewed as a drunkalogue by a practicing alcoholic on the verge of insanity. But while Jack Kerouac was a sometime crazy booze hound, he was also a very insightful writer. And yes, when he was living through this particular bad San Francisco trip, he was a sometimes drunk and full-time crackup. However. When he got back home to his mother's house on the East Coast and wrote this book in the solitude that protected his gift, he was clear-eyed. In the hours and days of his lucidity, he detailed his alcoholism, he unflinchingly recorded the flaws in his character that brought on his nervous breakdown. So here we have the Beat Generation not as the Disney characters of nostalgia but as the good, bad and ugly people they were when a very introverted Catholic/Buddhist writer with a ton of talent hung out with them and hung in with them to the point of his own self-destruction.
Tom Parker, as always, does a great job bringing these mostly long-dead voices back to life.
I might listen to it again because Kerouac is my favorite writer... BUT Tom Parker's nasally voice is really hard to take.
I don't know anything about Parker's audiobook resume, but he sounds like he probably is a former sports announcer or something. Nothing against him personally, but how he was selected to read a classic novel such as "Big Sur" is beyond me. He certainly has the dramatic skill, but I found the sound of his voice to be almost unbearable.
There is a part in the middle of the story where he describes the waves of twenty-something hipsters who find him, expecting to see the young Kerouac of yore, but instead meet this ailing, alcoholic middle-aged guy. The emotional impact of this was very strong for me -- Jack's sadness and despair, telling the story from the standpoint of the downward arc of his career, after the peak of his fame during his lifetime. As Natalie Merchant & Rob Buck wrote in the song "Hey Jack Kerouac", he "chose his words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood", and there he was himself wandering around the dark woods near Big Sur.
Replace him with another narrator.
Jack Duluoz, Kerouac's alter ego character, of course.
I'm hoping this is not a trend regarding books on Audible.com, narrators with annoying voices.
As with Dharma Bums, Tom Parker's reading performance of Kerouac's later work in Big Sur enlivens and adds great nuance and animation to the material. I've found this one to be a surprising unknown gem, with Kerouac revisiting old pals, wrestling with celebrity and alcohol and his own monkey mind. It's wonderfully human and frustrating to read of Jack gradually abandoning the hard to attain dharma principles, and drinking himself to death.
There's the uncomfortable hot tub gathering in Big Sur, and his stay with Willamine "Billie" at her apartment in SF.
I dig the ups and downs of the whole darn thing, man.
No but I'm glad I did. It gives insight into a tortured soul. It reminds you that people never really change in spite of time
Jack Kerouac of course.
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