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Publisher's Summary

A literary icon sometimes seen as a bridge between the Beat Generation and the hippies, Ken Kesey scored an unexpected hit with his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His successful follow-up, Sometimes a Great Notion, was also transformed into a major motion picture, directed by and starring Paul Newman.

Oregon’s Stamper family does what it can to survive a bitter strike dividing their tiny logging community. And as tensions rise, delicate family bonds begin to fray and unravel.

©1963, 1964 Ken Kesey (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC

What listeners say about Sometimes a Great Notion

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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The Best American Novel in 60 years

I read this book long ago, but remembered it as confusing. Not so with the Audible version. This narrator is a genius with voices and inflections. Because of that I was able to follow the quick dialogue and changes of voice. It is like Faulkner in that past and present switch and weave. With the writing clarified by the reading, I was able to see how these characters and their deep conflicts were so masterfully portrayed by Kesey. Just superb!

12 people found this helpful

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A great book in print brought to life

If you could sum up Sometimes a Great Notion in three words, what would they be?

Strong Northwest tale

Who was your favorite character and why?

Hank. He was the hero but also an antihero. Kesey brought out his inner thoughts and
downplayed the obvious, i.e. the outer action. He was capable of great love, for his
father, Viv, and Joe Ben but had some trouble expressing this love.

Have you listened to any of Tom Stechschulte???s other performances before? How does this one compare?

The Road. No Country for Old Men. All of them have been well done but
the narrator had more voices in this novel and did all of them extremely well.

Who was the most memorable character of Sometimes a Great Notion and why?

Joe Ben. He was the guy we'd all like to have as a friend. Irrepressible joy and
boundless energy. He wouldn't hurt anyone on purpose. A man who lived his
deep faith but was worldly in every respect.

Any additional comments?

As happened when I read this book 45 years ago in print, I did not want this audiobook
to end.

20 people found this helpful

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unexpected pleasure

This was a book chosen for our book club. I considered it to be a book I would not read on my own because of the length, dense writing style and subject matter. Because of the length I decided to listen to it as I knew I wouldn't have time to finish if I were reading it. I'm so glad I did. The performance was wonderful, the writing is brilliant, and I found the story to be very engaging once I got into it. I still think about some of the characters weeks later. I do think that having the story read out loud made a huge difference. The preponderance of dialogue in various dialects as well as the shifting points of view would make for a challenging read. The audible version made it a pleasure to listen to. I was sad when it ended.

9 people found this helpful

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My Favorite Book

If you liked The Count of Monte Christo, Atlas Shrugged, East of Eden, or On the Road you will love this book because it finishes the thought that these books started, but with more humanity, humor and complexity.

21 people found this helpful

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Sometimes a Great Novel Pops up out of Nowhere

It’s a mystery why this book never enjoyed the acclaim of, say, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Rabbit, Run, The Executioner’s Song or Bonfire of the Vanities. My two-bit theory posits that, given its arrival immediately following Kennedy’s assassination, it didn’t seem to address current conditions. Set amid the forests of the Pacific Northwest, tinged with country western music and populated with James Dean wannabes, Sometimes a Great Notion might have been perceived in its day as casting a backwards glance when many readers were only looking forward with apprehension or expectation. The fact that author Ken Kesey went on to become the patron saint of psychedelia probably didn’t help the book’s reputation. While Kesey’s notoriety ensured that the novel would not slide entirely into obscurity, readers seeking the literary equivalent of a bong hit would come away frustrated and daunted by this big, dense book.

In any case, at the distance of more than half a century, Sometimes a Great Notion stands as a heroic accomplishment. I can’t remember what virtual rabbit hole led me to this book, but coming upon it now feels like going on an afternoon hike, only to stumble upon the Taj Mahal in a clearing. Here we have everything we could want in a novel. Kesey employs all the most effective innovations of modernist fiction to tell the tale of a dynastic struggle worthy of Shakespeare or the ancient Greeks. If that weren’t enough to sustain the reader’s interest, the central narrative is interlaced with dozens of compelling and entertaining side plots. To encounter Kesey writing at the top of his game is to realize that many authors, including John Irving and especially Robert Stone, are merely dutiful imitators.

While I’m taking pains not to spoil the pleasures of navigating any the novel’s many narrative tributaries, it’s worth noting that, though there are a few well-developed female characters, this story is steeped in testosterone. There are passages that make Hemingway’s machismo look faint-hearted. I hasten to add that the male lumberjacks at the heart of the novel are not any the less complex and believable for all their rough-hewn virility. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to imagine such a full-throated working-class ballad appearing amid the ranks of today’s literary fiction. This accounts for why the book feels simultaneously so fresh and trapped in amber.

Were Sometimes a Great Notion not a masterpiece in its own right, Tom Stechschulte’s performance would still make this book essential listening. The novel's narration passes fluidly from third person to first person. The book doesn’t simply boast dozens of characters; it takes us inside these personae, making us privy to their inner thoughts. Stechschulte’s deft switching of voices—at times done mid-sentence—unlocks Kesey’s vast, kaleidoscopic vision. The masterful direction and performance make even the most complex chapters immediately accessible. This is recorded literature raised to an art form in its own right.

6 people found this helpful

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A very worthwhile sleeper classic

I had read in several literary forums that SAGN was lesser known but actually a better book than his more famous One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I have not yet read Cuckoo's Nest (loved the film) but I have to say that SAGN lived up to and exceeded my expectations and I would have to place it amongst the greatest of the modern classics I've ever read. Starting out, the plain stark bare-bones writing style reminded me of Cormac McCarthy, another of my all-time favorites. Kesey has an incredible gift to put his reader inside the minds of all the characters, both protagonists and antagonists and other, so much so that I found myself sympathizing and empathizing with even the alleged bad guys. Combine that with all the symbolism, brilliant characterization and quest for universal truths and you have an incredibly enjoyable read! This is a challenging book because Kesey keeps switching the perspective from 1st person from character to character to 3rd person omniscient. Also, the narrator's voice was very appropriate for the novel. SAGN is easily one of the more rewarding reads I've had the pleasure to experience on audible. I'm off to more literary adventures with Kesey and I'd advise all other avid readers of challenging modern classics to do the same.

13 people found this helpful

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A window into the soul of Oregon

I've had a copy of this for years, but couldn't get through it until I listened to this excellent performance. And it happened to coincide with my moving to Oregon, which was a perfect introduction to the fiercely-independent, deep-woods-and-rain soul of Oregon Kesey depicts here.

It was repeated several times that "you must go through one of these winters to have some notion." And having spent my first winter in the state, I can understand that now.

The narration is almost essential to read the book. Because of the Faulkner-style free association of the writing, it is sometimes difficult to figure out who is talking. But the narrator's voice changes with each character, and that helps tremendously to follow the threads. And his characterization of Joe Ben will be a particularly lasting memory for me.

So if you invest the 30-odd hours of listening, you will be rewarded with a rich picture of the tangled Stamper family dynamics, the gnawing Waconda river, and life in a hard-scrabble wet insular logging town in the Oregon coast range.

3 people found this helpful

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  • GK
  • 09-12-12

Kesey writes Oregon like King writes Maine

Where does Sometimes a Great Notion rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

It's hard to say. I have listened to over 100 audio books, perhaps more. My first experience with them was when I was a little girl back in the 60's and they were on LP records. So of course nothing can compete with the stories like The Little Match Girl and The Tin Soldier read by a master, male voice I could play on my little record player in the privacy of my bedroom at the age of five, and weep without being teased by my older brothers and sisters. The LP had sound effects too!Sometimes A Great Notion is a wonderful, earthy story of a Oregonian logging family that is dysfunctional. The father is judgmental and runs his family like his business...under a saw, as in cutting words, being blunt. Union strikers try and intimidate the family into stopping their non--union, independently owned logging business for the season and that isn't going to happen. The seasonal help is intimated and refuses to work for the family, so the prodigal, hippie, little brother comes home to help. You would think his father was grateful to have anyone help, nope, he has to get his judgements in like barbed fish hooks, and both men, really father and both sons are hard headed. The women smooth things over.I had always loved the film adaption of this book with Henry Fonda and Paul Newman. There is a scene of the brotherinlaw getting trapped under a log in the water. Paul Newman tries over and over again to start a large chain saw. Both men thinking they have all the time in the world--help will eventually come. The water starts to rise and the log rolls a bit on the brotherinlaw, laying him back into the water, up to his chin, then his nose, then he is under water. Paul keeps giving him mouth to mouth and you know that Paul's character will do this all night. His brotherinlaw is such a loving and joy filled father and husband--always with a joke to try and keep peace between father (Fonda) and his two sons. He starts to laugh under water and Paul is yelling at him to stop, but it makes him laugh more...and he drowns. The tone of the film turned dark from there. I hadn't read the book and this author also wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (I did read and have it in a leather bound copy I love it that much), so when I saw Sometimes A Great Notion was on Audible, I had to hear it. I couldn't wait to read it.

Which scene was your favorite?

All the descriptions of the coast, forest and river in such rich detail. I was born and raised in Oregon. A stone's throw from Lincoln City. My family made weekend day trips to every inch of the coast and camping along the Santiam River every summer. My father, brothers and husband grew up hunting and fishing too many places I can list here. Kesey knows the areas well.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

I highly recommend the film by the same name

Any additional comments?

If you've read One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and loved it, you will likely love this book too.

9 people found this helpful

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A Classic

I don't know why there aren't more of us who love this book. I first read it twenty years ago and reread it every few years. It never fails to captivate me with its tale and exquisite language.

This audio production is magnificent and was a joy to listen too.

2 people found this helpful

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Great story, great performance. a must listen/read

This is a book I failed to finish multiple times while reading the actual book. Kesey is an amazing writer and his style is truly something special, but his tendency to switch from one character to another and changing from current story to a flashback without any indication and his long intricate descriptions make it hard to stay focused for me.

that is why listening to this story, especially narrated by Tom Steckschulte, really allowed me to enjoy this story. as an Oregonian, I know what the coast is like here, and Kesey (also an Oregonian) really makes you feel it. Tom does great voices for each character, and really allows you to feel their emotion. he also does a great job of giving indication of when the story is switching timeframes, or when your are switching from one characters stream of consciousness to another character's, while still allowing you to experience the chaos of it all that really makes this story.

this story is definitely in my top 5 favorite books. get it.

2 people found this helpful