I had not read a novel by Jack Kerouac in quite some time. But over the past week, I finished Dharma Bums -- and I must say, it's a great novel.
There are so many cliches and associations tied with Kerouac's name. And On The Road, of course, helped to establish these.
But Dharma Bums is its own thing entirely: I was surprised. Kerouac's interest here is nature. There is an observational streak to this novel -- a sort of naturalist posture -- that predates the environmentalist literature which would come a generation later.
I enjoyed the scenes set in San Francisco, it's true: but I think that's because they're a reminder of Kerouac's roots. More than those, though, I was taken by his visions of the Pacific Northwest, where the novel concludes. Kerouac is excellent on the Cascades and the big open landscape of Washington State. Those mountains are a fitting end to a book in search of eternity.
Dharma Bums is full of insight and courage -- all while shying away some from the bebop jazz of On The Road. For a book about nature alone, this is worth the read. It certainly renewed my interest in Kerouac and my appreciation for his place among American writers.
"But let the mind beware," he writes, "that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious."