Big Sur is the quasi-autobiographical tale of Jack Duluoz who tries to escape his life in San Francisco by seeking solitude in a cabin the wilds of Big Sur. Expecting a lyrical exploration of adventures in the wilderness, I settled down in the dark night at Deetjens on Big Sur with the copy I’d picked up in San Francisco (City Lights, of course). By the end of the first chapter, it was clear this was not the hedonistic book of my memory – instead, it’s a brutally honest and painful introspective on Kerouac’s descent into madness due to the excesses of fame.
“That feeling when you wake up with the delirium tremens with the fear of eerie death dripping from your ears like those special heavy cobwebs spiders weave in the hot countries.” The novel is filled with his signature stream of consciousness, but there’s a darkness, a heaviness, a claustrophobia here. Jack is on edge, jumpy at everything as he flits back and forwards between the drinking binges in San Francisco and the solitude of the cabin in the woods, falling deeper and deeper into paranoia in a narrative that becomes increasingly difficult to read.
For fans of Kerouac – or even those who dismissed On The Road as lightweight – this is an important read, showing the brutal truth of the other side of the coin in a life lived to excess and the ugly underbelly of fame.