I love this book so much on so many levels, though it isn’t in any way an easy one to just breeze through. There is a definite learning curve to navigating the story line within the author’s style of writing, and it can feel challenging and even laborious at times. Keep going—it’s a brilliant, moving, and extremely poignant ride. This is actually my second reading (my copy is worn, much-circulated and post-it-noted), and thirty years since the first time has felt like going back to a favorite foreign country after learning to speak the native language; everything is as beautiful and exciting as you remember, yet intensified by a sense of both familiarity and new insight.
The premise of this sweeping, epic saga revolves around a logging family in western Oregon and the bitter labor dispute that threatens their community, their land, and their livelihood. Even more significant is the impact on the relationships within the central home, where the characters struggle with holding on, letting go, loyalty, forgiveness, and revenge. While those themes are certainly not uncommon to literature, Kesey makes them feel fresh and raw and personal by intimately connecting the reader and the characters in their turmoil; he constructs a narrative in which they often speak over each other and at the same time—all in the first person, sometimes unidentified, sometimes to themselves. The overlapping points of view and interior dialogue can be extremely hard to follow and unravel (or as I call it in Kesey-speak, “hippy-dippy-acid-trippy”), but once the rhythm becomes clear, so do the emotions and thoughts that the characters can’t or won’t communicate with each other. The reader emerges as the one party whose experience and knowledge is unfiltered and true; invested in and rooting for an outcome, yet ultimately a helpless spectator. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking and breathtaking. Worth the effort! (Did I mention that I love this book?)