Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Sometimes a Great Notion

The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…

Following the astonishing success of his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey wrote what Charles Bowden calls “one of the few essential books written by an American in the last half century.” This wild-spirited tale tells of a bitter strike that rages through a

Following the astonishing success of his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey wrote what Charles Bowden calls “one of the few essential books written by an American in the last half century.” This wild-spirited tale tells of a bitter strike that rages through a small lumber town along the Oregon coast. Bucking that strike out of sheer cussedness are the Stampers. 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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    Oriana

    Jun 28, 2007

    rated it
    it was amazing

     · 
    review of another edition

    Shelves:
    phenomenal,
    read-2008

    after reading: Oh my. Oh my goodness what an incredible book. Absolutely stunning.

    Sometimes A Great Notion (which, btw, gets its title from the Ledbelly song “Goodnight Irene”) is the story of the Stamper family, renegade loggers in Oregon in maybe the fifties. It’s an incredible family—Henry, the patriarch, the crazed, stubborn old goat who started the logging business; his son Hank (stoic, serious, earnest, proud, charming) and Hank’s cousin Joe Ben (brimming with enthusiasm and joy and good

    Sometimes A Great Notion (which, btw, gets its title from the Ledbelly song “Goodnight Irene”) is the story of the Stamper family, renegade loggers in Oregon in maybe the fifties. It’s an incredible family—Henry, the patriarch, the crazed, stubborn old goat who started the logging business; his son Hank (stoic, serious, earnest, proud, charming) and Hank’s cousin Joe Ben (brimming with enthusiasm and joy and good will), who now run the company; Hank’s gorgeous and quiet and wonderful wife Viv; and Hank’s much younger half-brother Leland, an intellectual and a weakling who fled the rough workaday life as soon as he was old enough, and now lives in New York where he is finishing college. There has been a lifelong and mostly unspoken rivalry between the brothers, but because the Stampers have run afoul of the logging union, Hank and Joe Ben write to Leland, asking him to come back home to help make a big run.

    The other important thing is that the entire town despises the Stampers. Currently all the loggers are on strike, but the Stamper clan is still working, and because of that, they are preventing the strike from ending, since there’s no reason for the company that wants the lumber to negotiate with the union when the Stampers are doing all the same work. Everyone has always hated the Stampers anyway, because they are big and strong and stubborn and put everyone else to shame, and now the whole town is seriously turning against them.

    Now look. That encapsulation is not only horribly unjust (a book of this magnitude deserves much more than a paltry surface summation like that), but also is likely to turn off your average modern reader. I know, I know, an entire novel about logging in the country? And a boring union struggle with a bunch of backwoods hicks? It wouldn’t have caught my attention either.

    But listen, there is so much more than that here.

    Above all, this is a book about people, filled with some of the most fascinating and deeply drawn characters I have come across in a terribly long time. Even the supporting cast have rich backstories, like the town prostitute (Indian Jenny) who calls men to her bed by throwing clamshells and then buying them drinks; Biggy Newton, the overgrown class bully who has been beating up (and getting beaten up by) Hank since they were in school together; Les Gibbons, an old drunk made bitter by a life of grudges; Boney Stokes, Henry’s alleged best friend, who wishes for his downfall more than anyone who hates him; Teddy the fat bartender who thinks he knows everything about the human condition as he waters down all the drinks.

    And those are just the incidental characters. I haven’t said hardly anything about Hank, Joe Ben, Viv, Leland, and Henry, because if I start writing about them, I’ll end up transcribing the entire six-hundred-page book here. The complicated ways these people love each other, the intricate ways they fuck each other up… it is so intense, so believable, so real. It made me remember that one of the things we’ve lost in our pomo irony age is the serious emotional connection that it is possible to make with earnest, deep characters. Because I will tell you right now, this book made me cry. Not just cry but sob. In public. On the fucking subway. It crept into my dreams, the way really intense movies do, I kept repeating lines to myself and my friends, re-examining scenes I had read days ago to smooth them out and polish them and find in them more beauty and meaning and truth.

    And listen: Kesey is not without his own literary machinations. For example, he manages to tell the story from several points of view. At once. As in, in the same paragraph there would be three “I”s: one in italics, one in parentheses, and one in regular type. But where with a modern-day irnoicist, this might come of as metafictional gimicry, here it felt not only smooth and effective, but necessary. Because everyone is thinking all the time, right? And all these characters have rich internal lives to match their rich outer ones, and so a major climactic scene needs to be told by everyone at once, just like it happens. Each narrative augments and enhances the other, making for a stunningly complete picture.

    One drawback I did notice was the womenfolk. These stoic, complicated, multifaceted men were unfortunately not graced by the presence of equally complex women; most of the ladies in the book were shrewish, mute, or dead (though the dead were often even more powerful forces than the living). The only truly developed gal was Viv, and she was not nearly as thoroughly done as any of the men. One of her central decisions, one of the axes on which the entire plot turned, I found completely unfounded, unjustified, and almost insulting.

    But. Ultimately that was not nearly enough to seriously detract from this utterly amazing story. I cannot remember the last time I was so thoroughly knocked out by a novel. I cannot believe how much this affected me.

    mid-read: Ok, so this is seriously weird. While reading this book for pleasure, I am also proofing an erotic vampire romance novel for work (I wish that was a lie). And you would think that the stark contrast between, you know, amateur silliness and a serious work of literature would bring this book into absolute focus. And that’s true, of course. But what’s seriously blowing my mind is that there are all sorts of parallels between the two books, in odd and creepy ways. Both heroes are ruled by revenge, in ways that warp and twist their minds, ways that are meditated upon constantly, with, um, predictable and harrowing results, respectively (it’s obvious which is which, though, right?). Anyway and also, the sections of each that I’m up to today both take place on Halloween. Maybe that’s a small coincidence, but I think it’s crazy.

    old: This is one of my parents’ favorite books. I read it in high school, and wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped. Soon I’ll read it again, and see who was wrong, the ‘rents or my younger self.
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