Ben Thomas, January 21, 2013 (view all comments by Ben Thomas)
Just one of the many wonderful books of the last 50 years that leave you with a couple nagging queries: "Why isn't this book required reading somewhere along the line? Why was I so lucky to stumble upon this ruby-red gem?". And I think the answer to question #1, and in turn #2, is because in order to reach the last page, one will have to have examined, opened oneself up a little bit, to see just what is ticking inside that brain and pumping through that heart. That's not so popular these days. Not just because it tends to hurt and lead to more questions that answers, but because we don't know that it's possible to hurt in such a way. And that it might not actually be a bad thing to hurt a little for once...instead of the general, drab nonchalance of not feeling at all. Who knows where it might lead?
Thank you Ken Kesey, what a lovely, passionate novel about life.
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The character developement is phenomenal: rarely is a book capable of shifting the reader's sympathies between different characters but that's just what Kesey does. The book's narration often jumps from character to character in the middle of a paragraph without any punctation, but the characters' voices are so well developed that the jumps aren't confusing. It feels like a conversation.
The book left me feeling unsure of its outcome but not like I was cheated out of a conclusive ending. Sometimes A Great Notion is more than worthwhile for anyone willing to make the commitment.
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Reading Sometimes a Great Notion (I finally made it past the first 100 labyrinthine pages after many failed attempts) had such a profound impact on me; it spoke so directly to my core and to what brought me to the land of big trees and ocean breeze (I'm getting chills just writing this). I believe this book is Kesey's real masterpiece, and is fundamental to understanding the Northwest.
Often called the "quintessential Oregon novel," Sometimes a Great Notion bears remarkable similarity to our fabled Beaver State winters: seemingly sprawling and unending at first, characterized by incessant rain, somewhat disorienting until you become acclimated, yet ultimately compelling, fecund, and, dare I say, necessary. Ken Kesey is perhaps Oregon's most famous adopted son, known best, of course, for his debut novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the time he spent with the Merry Pranksters. Not only is Sometimes a Great Notion Kesey's masterwork (Bartleby : Moby-Dick :: Cuckoo's Nest : Notion), it very well may encapsulate the American ethic and landscape as well as any other novel of its era.
Concerned with the ongoing timber strike in the fictional coastal range town of Wakonda, Sometimes a Great Notion revolves around the very proud and unyielding Stamper family, who decide to continue logging despite the acrimony and pleading of their neighbors. Literally teeming with symbolic imagery, the novel engenders some conflicted loyalties in the reader, as even the most reprehensible behavior on the part of some of the characters manages to elicit our sympathies. Kesey's unique prose structure, rich in style and nuance, stands in stark contrast to the inability of most of the characters to openly express themselves, their desires, and their feelings. One could easily make the case that this book is mainly about the labor struggle or encroaching modernity or the timber industry or Oregon itself; but, at its roots, it seems to be about the underlying and driving motivations that characterize the complexity of interpersonal relationships. While propelled by some of the basest of human emotions — hubris, stubbornness, revenge, jealousy, envy — Sometimes a Great Notion is also marked by some of the noblest: love, loyalty, camaraderie, and kindness.
This is quite the rewarding work, and lovers of all types of fiction will undoubtedly find many things remarkable about this epic novel. Kesey's masterpiece deserves its place amidst the canon of great American novels, yet is rarely mentioned in the same breath as some of the more widely accepted classics. Not merely a book about the Pacific Northwest, Sometimes a Great Notion is about the unseen intricacies that shape and command who we are, where we live, and how we relate to others, ourselves, and the places we call home. Come look... it's all there to see.
From Sometimes a Great Notion:
For the reverberation often exceeds through silence the sound that sets it off; the reaction occasionally outdoes by way of repose the event that stimulated it; and the past not uncommonly takes a while to happen, and some long time to figure out.
by Benjamin H.,
One family of hardheaded loggers goes against the entire town, but there's so much packed into the emotional lives of each character that any plot summary falls far short. Let's just call it a masterpiece, a whirling conflagration of desires, expectations, disappointments, and family, all colliding in the Oregon rain. You've got to stay on the bounce — and give Kesey's greatest novel (yeah, I said it) a read!
by Benjamin H.
by Chicago Tribune,
"A contemporary classic....This book...and its creator have become part of our consciousness and memory."
"[Kesey is] an exuberant storyteller....The words flow...in a slangy, spermy, belt-of-bourbon surge, intimate and muscular."
The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sailor Song is a wild-spirited and hugely powerful tale of an Oregon logging clan.
A bitter strike is raging in a small lumber town along the Oregon coast. Bucking that strike out of sheer cussedness are the Stampers: Henry, the fiercely vital and overpowering patriarch; Hank, the son who has spent his life trying to live up to his father; and Viv, who fell in love with Hank's exuberant machismo but now finds it wearing thin. And then there is Leland, Henry's bookish younger son, who returns to his family on a mission of vengeance - and finds himself fulfilling it in ways he never imagined. Out of the Stamper family's rivalries and betrayals Ken Kesey has crafted a novel with the mythic impact of Greek tragedy.
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