Kesey's first book, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, is written in a more relaxed traditional style, but he must have been on LSD too long when he wrote SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, because he's everywhere, even in a dog's head. (Tolstoy did that too. It's okay; I've been there too.)
It all happens in Oregon in the 1950-60s, out in the woods and inside a house on a river that flows through a small Oregon town and empties into a bay. Women are in the background. This is a guy story, full of macho confrontation and battling of wills. Fistfights, suicides, depression, drugs, prostitutes, incest, drinking, all woven in to the fabric of a tale of a logging family, celebrating individualism and the power of the human spirit to conquer nature, to fight inner battles and battle others.
It's a great story, and it made a great Paul Newman/Henry Fonda film. Kesey changes point of view on a dime, loops back, flashes forward. Sometimes he's in the heads of three different characters in the same paragraph, using italics and parentheses and even a different typeface to keep us engaged. Tolstoy did something similar, but in a far more controlled way.
It was exhausting, but I couldn't put the thing down. What a psychedelic, herky-jerky ride. I'm glad it's over, but I wish he'd had a strong editor (Gordon Lish, where were you?) to do some chopping. But then look what Thomas Wolfe got away with in LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL, after Max Perkins cut 60,000 words. And who could have controlled Kesey?
There's so much THERE here, and Kesey makes you work for it.
(See my other blogs on Ken Kesey.)
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