Ken Kesey – Sometimes a Great Notion

Review From User :

"Sometimes I lives in the country
Sometimes I lives in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river an' drown"

I know little about Oregon State, what little I do know is that it's damp almost all of the time, has it's fair share of trees and woodland, and it's where 'The Goonies' and 'Stand by Me' were filmed, and River Phoenix was born there.

Ken Kesey's 'Sometimes a Great Notion' is quite simply a contemporary American masterpiece, set on the rain soaked Oregon coast, the fictional town of Wakonda early in the 1960's. The story, if you could call it that, is surrounding a logging family (The Stampers), who cut and procure trees for a local mill in opposition to striking, unionized workers. They live in an old house built out on the river and pretty much keep to them selves, and due to current circumstances are the scourge of the town. I wouldn't exactly call them hillbilly folk, but they're not far of. There is the old croaky father Henry, sons Hank, and Leland (recently returning from the east coast), and hank's partner Viv.

The bitter strike is at the centre of the novel, which sees the labour force demanding the same pay but for less hours due to the on going problem of less demand in this market. The Stampers who own and operate their own company decide to continue logging to supply the regionally owned mill, but cause fury with the locals. A Union man is called to town (Mr Dreager) to try and solve the dispute, the Stampers play dirty and won't budge. The Striking details remain largely in the background. You are left wondering on certain points. But the story truth be told is all about the day to day lives of the Stampers, they completely steal the show. A huge chunk of the narrative takes place within the walls of the Stampers residents, and has an almost voyeuristic sensibility, and conversations between family members can seem to last for tens of pages at a time. Now I made reference to hillbillies, and the dialogue here takes some getting used to. There is lots of slang talk and derogatory comments made throughout, even the 'N' word gets used a lot, but this simply reiterates the "off the beaten track" type of people we are dealing with, living out on the river in seclusion, they take to hunting and setting traps for animals,as a way to provide for food when getting into town is difficult.

At 715 pages things do eb and flow here and there, and can get slightly tiresome, but that's just me being picky, because on the whole it's length is something that the further you go on the less of a problem it becomes, you become totally involved in this damp and dreary community your feelings for certain characters change from hatred to that of pity.
The novel's multiple characters speak sequentially in the first person, seemingly without alerting the reader to whom they are listening to, this can get confusing as narrative will skip from one to the other without any idea of knowing so, again you just get used to it over time.
If I could sum up the Stampers in one word that would be 'Stubborn', the house for example appears to be about to fall apart at any time, the interiors are awash with er...mess, they are living so far in the past, but nothing and no one will get them to change, they firmly hold their ground!

The most intelligent of the pack is Leland, who returns to Wakonda after years spent on the east coast with his mother, he is attracted to Hank's Viv, and late on in the novel the two will come to loggerheads, there is also an incident that could see their resolve shattered, and the last 100 pages or so are set up for what appears a climactic and tense finale, but going on the overall nature of past proceedings, don't expect some huge grand spectacle of a finish, you will be let down. The slow pace stays for the whole duration.
Another important aspect of Notion is the weather!, it rains, it rains constantly, even when it's dry it's still wet and damp. The river swells, the town has puddles the size of small lakes, and residents continually shake their caps of rain water, have constant colds, and foul stinking attitudes they carry around forever!. Kesey brings the whole place to life, in such vivid and articulated way, this is the great strength of the Great Notion, and has to rank up there with the best contemporary novels of all time!. I am still mystified why this seems to have gone into obscurity, even around the time of first publication, was is marketed badly, or did people simply not like it. Not sure, don't care, all that matters is my own reading experience.

An astonishing piece of writing!

Media Size : 2.5 MB