Big Sur, Spontaneous Prose and The American Colloquial Style

DANIEL ADLER BIG SURI read Big Sur because I’m going to Big Sur in a few weeks, during my survey of the American South and West. Kerouac is great: On the Road is one of the twentieth century’s most important novels. In Big Sur, it’s clear Kerouac is older and less sporadic, but his spontaneous prose style is more cohesive and fully defined.

He was released from the navy for being schizoid.

His rambling style shows a clear trajectory in American writing, in the move towards an ever-more-colloquial style. David Foster Wallace adds to it with his digressive entertainingly-similar-to-the-thoughts-in-your-head writing. This clearly American penchant for writing as speech begins with Twain, and is directly opposed to Hemingway’s sparse excellence and search for le mot juste;  there’s something delightingly post postmodern about it, which I can’t quite put my finger on. In my own work, I’d like to balance the two…

This novel perhaps isn’t as great as On the Road, although it may be better. The long poem at the end, “Sea: Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur,” is a comedown for the novel, which ends quite abruptly, almost disarmingly abruptly, without true resolution, just in the same spontaneous fashion in which it is written. And yet, that makes it so much more relatable; it doesn’t conform to plot standards of twenty or thirty pages of resolving action – in a flash, as quickly as the madness has come on, it’s over inexplicably, in the same way my madness disappeared just a few days ago when I turned back over that new leaf.

For Kerouac lovers, Big Sur is a masterpiece and a must-read.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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