Finished On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Several friends have tried to read it in the last few years and disdained it as worthless and self indulgent. I was afraid I would have the same reaction, so I chose to listen to an audiobook recording. The book is read by Will Patton whose voice and style of reading is so exuberant, so over the top, that it made me absolutely adore this book. This was not at all the reaction I expected to have.
The book, written in stream of consciousness, outlines the travels of Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and his madman friend Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), back and forth across North America. Sal's narration is at times frank, at others utterly poetic. The two are searching for life, it's true experience, and its meaning. Yes, there's plenty of bumming, drinking, stealing, sex, and drug usage, but today, these things are far less shocking than they were when the book was first published in 1957. As major figures in the Beat Generation the two reject convention and materialism, only working when they run out of money to travel and eat. Dean is perhaps the most compulsive character I have ever encountered in literature. He is unable to resist taking that which he wants, whether it is an experience, a woman, a car or a direction to travel in. Sal follows Dean's lead throughout most of the book, traveling back and forth from New York to Denver, California and even Mexico. Wikipedia indicates "The name Moriarty is an Anglicized version of the Irish name Ó Muircheartaigh which originated in County Kerry in Ireland. Ó Muircheartaigh can be translated to mean navigator or sea worthy, as the Irish word muir means sea and cheart means correct." Dean is most certainly the navigator of their travels, even when Sal is not traveling with Dean, he is traveling toward him or anticipating his arrival for their next adventure.
Dean seems mad in his speech, his obsessions, his cravings and ravings. With a name like Moriarty I can't help but think of Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty, who was the intellectual match of Sherlock Holmes, but, like Dean was also a madman. Sal and Dean are intellectually matched, but Sal is the one who grounds himself in the end, while Dean topples over the falls.