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
:: Cuckoo's Nest
), 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. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"A tremendous achievement . . . Set against the damp and brutal background of an Oregon logging community, the book by turns gasps, pants, whoops, and shrieks . . . you cannot help but admire Kesey's vigor, his profligate command of the language. And you have to stand back in awe of the man's ability to create character." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Sometimes a Great Notion, a big book in every way, captures the tenor of the post-Korea America as nothing I can remember reading . . . Beyond the PTA and the beer commercials, beyond the huge effluvium of the times, exist people who live by the ancient passions, and Mr. Kesey in the fullness of his material discovers them for us." The New York Times Book Review
"As in Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey brings to life people you will never forget . . . Getting into this book is getting into a fascinating, crazy world of a fascinating, crazy family which has a throbbing reality and a desperate dedication to living . . . and then there is that great gift for comedy, for purely sensational writing. When Kesey describes the Canada honkers flying over the woods you can almost see them; when he describes the smells of the grass and the tastes of the strawberries you feel and you smell and you taste." Ralph J. Gleason, San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Ken Kesey was born in 1935 and grew up in Oregon. He graduated from the University of Oregon and later studied at Stanford with Wallace Stegner, Malcolm Cowley, Richard Scowcroft, and Frank O' Connor. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, his first novel, was published in 1962. His second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, followed in 1964. His other books include Kesey's Garage Sale, Demon Box, Caverns (with O. U. Levon), The Further Inquiry, Sailor Song, and Last Go Round (with Ken Babbs). His two children's books are Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear and The Sea Lion. Ken Kesey died on November 10, 2001.
Charles Bowden is the author of Inferno and A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior.