This is the alchemical output of Ken Kesey in his prime. Written while living in La Honda, CA
and forming the Merry Pranksters
and taking copius amounts of LSD
and other substances the book can be seen as Kesey's attempts to reconcile his various core personalities.
On one hand Kesey was the son of a diary farmer from Oregon who grew up hunting and fishing and was a state champion wrestler (see Hank Stamper). On the other hand Kesey was a beatnik who lived in Palo Alto, CA's hip neighborhood and aspired to some kind of Jack Kerouac likeness of being (see Leeland Stanford Stamper).
More than this the book uses revolutionary narative methods jumping not only from one characters POV to another but also from first to thrid person and back again. Sometimes it even seemes as if Kesey is breaking the third wall of the novel and speaking directly to his audience. This was something he would do more and more of (in various plays) as he grew older and abandoned (more or less) the novel as a communicative medium for being too 'one to one' or 'writer to reader'.
There's a quote from a Grateful Dead song I'm reminded of:
Got to be heaven, cause here's where the rainbow ends.
If this ain't the real thing, then it's close enough to pretend.
And this is the way the book should be viewed. Maybe there is no such thing as the Great American Novel and then again maybe we only need to get close enough to it to pretend.
The title of the book comes from a song by Huddy Ledbetter and John Lomax called goodnight Irene:
Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in the town,
Sometimes I get a great notion,
To jump into the river... an drown
More thoughts on the book as I reread it.