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207 of 210 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack's many lives converge in this book.
There are usually two types of Kerouac readers. There are the "On the Roaders", as I call them. The ones that enjoy his style, his way of placing his friends' lives into the context of their own troubles, their loneliness their love-- all the while with a literary pace likened to a old pickup speeding across the straightaways of the vacant Montana backroads. And then...
Published on December 22, 2000 by Jon Penney

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars gotta love the guy...
I have been reading Kerouac for about twenty years (but still haven't exhausted the canon). After reading Desolation Angels I think it might still be a while.
You have got to love Kerouac to get through much of this book (and I do) and it is ultimately worth the effort, but what an effort! Too much of this book is "we did this, then we did that" and...
Published on June 15, 1998 by doestick@sprynet.com


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207 of 210 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jack's many lives converge in this book., December 22, 2000
By 
Jon Penney (Parts Unknown) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
There are usually two types of Kerouac readers. There are the "On the Roaders", as I call them. The ones that enjoy his style, his way of placing his friends' lives into the context of their own troubles, their loneliness their love-- all the while with a literary pace likened to a old pickup speeding across the straightaways of the vacant Montana backroads. And then there are the others, who like the former, enjoy the style-- but they also look for the sadness in Kerouac's writing. His ability to deconstruct people with one look (in Desolation Angels he watches a waitress in a bar and tells her entire life story in snapshot events that underlie the sad look in her eyes), to find the hidden sentiments in people's actions-- whether he's right or wrong we really don't care.

Desolation Angels is the book for the second group of people. It is tortuous at times-- like his solitude atop the mountain staring Hozomeen in the face every morning which reveals Kerouac's own struggle to deal with himself and his past. But I believe among all of his novels it is the most rewarding. The book takes us to all of his major haunts- London, New York, San Fran, Paris, the Mediterranean- with many of his closest friends - Neal, Allen, Williams S. Burroughs, Joyce. There's even a small part where Kerouac is face to face with Salvador Dali.

If you are looking for Kerouac-the-humanist at his best- this is the novel for you. Where the novel lacks in adventure (On the Road) and joyous affirmation (Dharma Bums) it makes up in sheer descriptive character study and sad observation, of a man trying to grapple with what he sees as the emptiness of all things, and the reality of his own personal struggles with life, love, and death.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ON THE ROAD...with Mom, August 15, 2005
By 
Spunk Monkey (The pit of despair) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
This book may come as a real shock to those whom have a preconcieved notion about what the "Beats" were all about, and it may also be a shock for those more familiar with the jubilant ecstatic life affirmations of On The Road or even The Dharma Bums.

In this book Jack goes on the road (with Mom), has sex with a fourteen year old mexican prostitute, meets up with a Neal (Cody) whom is a far fly from his On the Road days and is tied down with a wife + three kids and a job, meets Salidore Dali + William Carlos WIlliams + Carl Sandburg, gets his book published, is constantly compulsively depressed, has a paradigmatic consciousness flip after a huge dose of opium, meets up with junkie Burroughs in Tangiers (whom is lovelorn over Ginsburg), and kicks Buddhism down a notch for a more hardcore return to Christianity.

As others have noted, this book follows directly after the Dharma Bums and that book should be read first. What follows is Jack's experiences on the mountain which, contrary to his expectations in Dharma Bums, is almost like a nightmare prison sentence.

After he leaves the mountain, we enter into the first half of the book (his return to California), which is a bit ponderous and slow (but never boring). We are treated to a tortureous description of his day of betting at a race track with Neal and Corso.

The book picks up speed bigtime when he goes back on the road and then travels internationally.

His prose is brilliant and poetic and his observations remarkable and I think this book is brilliant; but it is also tremendously sad, deeply frusterated and lost, spiritually drained and destitute, and there is little ecstacy to be had. By the end of the book, and with the return of his compulsive obsession with Christianity, one can really sense the beginning of his psychosis and alcoholism and mommy obsession which would spell his death by age fourty seven.

I'm not sure to whom this book should be recommended- for I'm not sure whom would care about this descent of an icon for joy. It should definetly be read by those whom have read On the Road and the Dharma Bums, but also by those whom think that the counter cultural movements were all done by joy seeking thrill addicts without a care in the world. After reading this book, it would seem that caring is something that was not is short supply amongst these bands of fellow travelers on the way.

Also, those whom felt that the beats were all leftist radicals, anarchists and communists would be very suprised to read in this book that Jack almost seems like a rightist in many regards. He reads a book on the atrocities of communism on the mountain, he constantly is remarking about totalitarian regimes (in particular- Russia), brings up Mao (at a time when some on the left felt he may have been a hero and the crimes against "reactionaries" hadn't yet come into light) and Castro (while others went off to visit Cuba jack said "I'm not concerned with the Cuban Revolution, I'm concerned with the American Revolution.") and even Zapata is discussed in negative diatribes. He was also a fan of Ike. He spends far more time bitching about leftist than he does about rightists. He also has some special scorn put aside for the common hipster, the mass of "beats" whom came after.

Very moving, sad, beautiful, profound, funny, poetic- a treasure from a real man at the start of his turn into a caricature by the mass media. By the end, when he drags his mother to california and he doesn't have hardly a nickel, he truely does seem like a little boy lost, crushed still by the death of his brother Gerard and his father whom he found, crushed by all the love lost, by all the dreams evaporated.

Evey place he goes, he believes that happiness may lie at the next stop- but once he gets there, there is only sadness once again. At first he wants to return to the mountain on which he'd felt so trapped, but by the end of the book, he just wants to return to the womb.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac's best novel, March 19, 2000
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
Wonderful novel by Jack Kerouac. We sense his deep loneliness and reevaluation of his life during his 63-day stay atop Desolation Peak in Mt. Baker National Forest in Washington State. Once down from the mountain, he sees how much life has changed once his novel "On the Road" is published. For those of you who loved "On the Road," "Desolation Angels" is a book you definitely must read--it's by far Kerouac's best and most personal novel.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the death of sal paradise, December 24, 2005
By 
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
Somewhere in the 409 pages of this book you'll find buried a truly great work of American literature. It is hard to fault Kerouac for his devotion to spontaneous and unedited writing; though these methods imposed limitations on what he could accomplish as a writer, they also contributed to what makes his books so fascinating. If Jack had lived in Hemingway's time, he would have submitted Desolation Angels to the publisher and would have been handed back a 300 page masterpiece.

The most problematic section is the first one, "Desolation in Solitude." I understand that Kerouac wanted to convey the sheer insanity of his isolation as a lookout, but considering that he already devoted about 30 pages to this in Dharma Bums, he essentially retreads the same mystic nonsense for another 70 pages without giving much new insight into his experience. The one interesting bit that comes out of the whole ordeal is the gradual dissatisfaction that Kerouac feels for Buddhism (which, through his interpretation, seems to fall a bit close to nihilism) and his reacceptance of Christianity.

But after this first section, things pick up and Kerouac delivers one painfully sad and and transcendentally beautiful insight after another (one of my favorites: his frustration at receiving a $3 jaywalking ticket on the way to a job, costing him half his day's pay-- but you have to read the way he puts it to understand, of couse). It is worth noting that Desolation Angels really is two different books written almost 5 years apart. The first half he wrote while in Mexico City (during events he describes in the second half, Passing Through), while the second half was written in Florida (I think) while he lived with his mother. Thus, Kerouac's interpretation of life radically shifts when you begin the 2nd half. He also suddenly becomes a lot more candid, talking about his life as a writer, his use of drugs, and the homosexuality of his peers in a lot more detail and honesty than he could manage before. It is also important to understand that "Desolation Angels" (part 1) was written BEFORE On the Road was published, while "Passing Through" (part 2) was written AFTER. His sudden brush with fame can probably account for this shift in perspective.

I don't want to go into too much detail about the multitude of spiritual revelations within the book, as its better to hear it out of the mouth of the mystic. Reading the book, one can't help but notice that Kerouac, even when past his literary and spiritual peak, was not the embittered and impotent wreck that he's usually considered-- not based on his touching insights in "Passing Through." He clearly has a lot of faith in humanity, and of the necessity that people act out of love and respect rather than hate and fear. Many critics quickly dismiss Desolation Angels as a "lesser work," but I think that if you're willing the persist through the dense opening section, the rewards are nearly as profound as those of his more famous novels.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The picture of unmaking, May 16, 2000
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
This book has been described as the journal of Jack losing himself. Some critics state that when he came back down from his time of solitude on Desolation Mountain begins his spiral downward into madness, alcoholism and loss of artistic edge. I disagree - but it is most certainly a showing of a break in his persona - as he describes the beauty and horror of having nothing to do but face one's self when that's all one has. The lies you tell yourself are strong, but give way when you have no one else to reinforce them for months on end...and this may have indeed driven Jack to the edge and beyond.
The pre-eminent voice of the Beat movement, who both gave it its name and disavowed his involvement, is at his most exposed and honest self in this work. This is not a book to read for a relaxing afternoon, in my opinion. This is a book that will burden you - but you'll be better for it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars gotta love the guy..., June 15, 1998
By 
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
I have been reading Kerouac for about twenty years (but still haven't exhausted the canon). After reading Desolation Angels I think it might still be a while.
You have got to love Kerouac to get through much of this book (and I do) and it is ultimately worth the effort, but what an effort! Too much of this book is "we did this, then we did that" and Kerouac's lack of contextualizing all this can get to you.
But there are always small epiphanies that make Kerouac worth reading. There are about six in this book, the best being his brief account of his sea voyage to Tangiers on a Yugoslav freighter in a storm. "It scares a seaman to hear the Kitchen scream in fear." And Kerouac's lamentation on the unfortunate popularization of the 'cool' ethos: "But all I could do was sit on the edge of the bed in despair listening to their awful 'likes' and 'like you know' and 'wow crazy'...All this was about to sprout out all over America even down to High School level and be attributed in part to my doing!"
Much of what makes Kerouac one of the American Big Three is that nobody else could get away with writing like this. It ain't pretty and it's often exasperating, but what a Great Soul.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timid Before God, March 29, 2006
By 
B. Morse (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
Jack Kerouac's 'Desolation Angels', written about a period of his life roughly 10 years before his death, acts as a nice bridge between 'On The Road' (which was awaiting publication during the course of events described in "Angels") and a subsequent publication, Big Sur, both of which I've read.

During his two month self-imposed exile to work as a fire ranger on Desolation Peak, Jack Kerouac was forced to confront many of his pre-existing or emerging demons. The location for this period of his life is especially apropos for the 'desolation' surrounding Kerouac, much of which was self-created, as he sank further into depression and alcoholism.

The book covers more of his life than just the two months on Desolation Peak, but as Jack re-emerges into society, you get the sense that this 'loner' was only comfortable being 'alone' amongst others...that while he could see, smell, and wander amongst others, and feel tolerably 'isolated'...he could not stand the true isolation he could achieve, to remove himself from society altogether.

Jack wanders from the American Northwest to Florida, to Mexico, to Tangiers, to California with his mother in tow, and eventually back to Florida, when his mother grows further depressed with their cross-country move after only a month.

Many players from Kerouac's former novels appear in this one as well, albeit with different names...the poet 'Gregory Corso,' to whom Kerouac lost 'Mardou Fox' in "Subterraneans" is called 'Raphael Urso' in "Angels"...'Dean Moriarty,' from "On The Road" is 'Cody' in this incarnation.

Kerouac's detachment from the Beat Generation, his status as their reigning 'king', his fame, and his Buddhist beliefs all come into focus during this novel, one of his finest, in my opinion. If you rode shotgun with Kerouac for On The Road, explore his life further, and you will uncover far more about this dark, troubled, but fascinating author.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Road to Ruin, January 17, 2002
By 
Patrick Julian Cassidy (San Francisco...Author of "A Journey to Bohemia") - See all my reviews
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
Let me tell you a story. I had just come down to
San Francisco after a couple of years of bumming
around the Great Northwest. It was a Monday morning
and I had picked up a newspaper; bound and determined
to scour the want ads until I found prospects for an
honest job, with the full intention of becoming more
respectful. I went to a cafe in North Beach and had a
seat at one of the outdoor tables. As I began to unfold
the newspaper, I noticed that someone had left a copy
of "Desolation Angels" on the chair. I picked it up and
started to read it. Several hours later I abandoned my
faint tries at redemption and walked over to Washington
Square to work on some poetry. The man can flat out write.
That's why they call him the King of the Beats.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Further reflections of a lonesome traveler, December 18, 2000
By 
Jude Joseph Lovell (Bloomfield NJ, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
I disagree with the 5-star consensus of the previous reviewers - Kerouac's writing is not 'faultless prose', as he characterizes it himself in this novel. But 'Desolation Angels' is another fascinating glimpse into the heart of this daring and nomadic - literally and spiritually - author. One star gets shaved from my review for the unfocused, enigmatic opening section of the book, 'Desolation in Solitude'. A rethinking of 'Alone on a Mountaintop' from 'Lonesome Traveler', this section only thickens the fog in both the reader and in the author, it seems. It's not that it rambles - all Kerouac's writing does, and to point it out as a flaw is like insisting that Bob Dylan's voice sucks. Of course it does, that's the point. But Kerouac characterized the Desolation Peak experience before and did it better in 'Lonesome Traveler'.
However, once Kerouac makes his descent and rejoins the world in the second half of Book One and through all of Book Two, the way that his mountaintop experience informs his perspective in places like New York, Mexico, and Europe is engrossing and surpisingly intelligent. Drawing from a wide variety of influences from St. Paul to Buddha to Hemingway, Kerouac revisits familiar places and people with a broadened and more cynical point of view. Desolation Angels is more candid, forthright, even explicit, than its predecessors about drug use and sex. But it also reveals a more exhaustive spiritual hunger in Kerouac, and leads the reader to conclude that the author, in his quest to meet God, realized he had indeed found Him.
By turns a thoughtful, pensive, funny and risk-taking novel, Desolation Angels is canonical Kerouac.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars literary molasses, September 12, 2005
This review is from: Desolation Angels (Paperback)
it oozes oh so slow and when it is on it is on. sometimes i have trouble with kerouac as he makes references to things that leave me scratching my head. every so often in this book i would turn back a few pages to see if i remembered what i read. i think 60% of the time i didn't. like the slow reading however, i know these pages have oozed into my subconscious. these concepts may take a few years to be fully realized.

welcome to the wonderfull world of jack kerouac outside of "on the road". do i love it? i'm not sure, that's why i didn't give "desolation angels" five stars. is he passionate? no doubt. is this book well-written? not even a question.

but this is kerouac to me. it's about patience and reward. this is not a fast read. in fact at times, i'll read four pages and feel exhausted. did i expect a quick read when i bought it? hell no.

bottom line: was it an enjoyable read? some parts yes, some parts no. but this begs the question, is it supposed to be enjoyable? i'd say same answer. definitely thick on the emotion so in that sense, I hold it in high regard. one part of the book i was singing the prose aloud. strange, isn't it?

:o)
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Desolation Angels
Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac (Paperback - September 1, 1995)
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