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Sometimes a Great Notion (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 29, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


A contemporary classic. (Chicago Tribune)

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's is the author of Inferno and A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior.


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (August 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143039865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143039860
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ken Kesey was born in Colorado in 1935. He founded the Merry Pranksters in the sixties and became a cult hero, a phenomenon documented by Tom Wolfe in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He died in 2001.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

185 of 194 people found the following review helpful By W. Weinstein on November 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the Kesey novel that nobody read after One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest stole all its thunder. Although it was filmed with an great cast (Henry Fonda, Paul Newman) it never gained the reputation that its inferior sibling achieved.
This is, quite simply, one of the great classics of the 20th century. Its pace and moody evocation of the American North West are stunning. The collision between the traditional and the modern, the past and the present make riveting, enthralling reading.
The Stamper family are loggers, rough, hard men and women who care for no ones opinion but their own. They are fighting the union, the neighbours, the town, their whole world. Their motto of "never give an inch" was the title of the film of the book. Into the strike-breaking start of the book comes the dope-smoking, college educated half brother, the prodigal son. His arrival triggers a tidal wave of events that spiral gradually out of control until everything that has been permanent before is now threatened.
If I seem vague in this review it is simply that I don't want to deprive you of the pleasure of discovering this story for yourself. This is one of the forgotten masterpieces. A book to be read, and then passed on to friends who are later bullied to give it back to be read again.
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83 of 85 people found the following review helpful By L. Bonner on April 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sometimes A Great Notion is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest pieces of American literature. I read this book when I was 18, 25, 33, 45 and now once again at my half-century mark. With each read the book has taken on more meaning, more clarity, more subtlety--more importance to living itself.

When I heard of Kesey's passing recently I felt a remorse, a sadness that I had never gone out of my way to meet him and look him in the eye and tell him that this one work of his had touched my life in many ways, moreso than almost any other book I've read.

Other reviews here sum up the narrative well, but there is one passage near the end that cuts far into the meat of the novel:

"...there is always a sanctuary more, a door that can never be forced whatever the force; a last inviolable stronghold that cannot be taken, whatever the attack. Your vote can be taken, your name, your innards, even your life. But that last stronghold can only be surrendered--and to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love..."

An important lesson for us all. We can only hope that Ken has found his eternal sanctuary.
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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on May 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Like "Cuckoo's Nest", this novel is as big and as expansive as the Pacific Northwest it is set in, where Kesey spins the colorful tale of a ogging family pit by circumstance against big business and the negativity of small town America. Describhed with his usual kaliedoscopic powers of wonderfully flowing detail and color, this is a complex and multi-layered tale, with more than enough ingredients for sustained exploration and interest; passion, betrayal, the intricate inner workings of an interesting family of individuals who love and need each other but at the same time want and need to stretch and grow, to be more than just who they are within the confines of that family.
In a sense this book is a almost a deliberate self-parody; Kesey shows there are many more ways to be a man than through the mere use of what are usually thought of as masculine characteristics. Thus we have a character like Hank, the ultimate bad-ass Stamper counterposed by Leland, the younger half-brother who is intellectually curious, a bit rowdy and uncertain, and who is exploring wht it means to be a "Stamper". This interesting rivalry and opposition between the brothers is used to explore a whole range of issues about what it means to be areal man and a real grown-up, and Kesey understands that in contemporary America the two hardly mean the same thing.
Yet at heart, this is a novel that lovingly but urgently explores the idea of family; what it should be, what it is, and what it should never let itself become.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Kuczkowski on January 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read Ken Kesey�s �Sometimes A Great Notion� at the urging of a friend, a debt I may never quite repay.
This is a truly epic novel, the story of�well what exactly? It�s the story of Leland Stamper, a Yale-educated, twenty-something intellectual grappling with near-suicidal depression in the wake of his mother�s suicide. It�s the story of Henry Stamper, Lee�s older half-brother, a hard-driving, stubburn, smart and narrow-minded bull of a man, determined and passionate, a fighter to his core and strong�oh so strong. It�s the story of Hank Stamper, their father a craggy old cood of a man, cantankerous, disagreeable, hillybilly and bully. It�s the story of the Stamper Family�s logging operation, which persist one automn despite a strike by the local logging union, various sabotage attempts directed by the leaders of said union, the unanimous opposition and anger of the local townsfolk, from Injun Jenny, the local whore, to the manager of the local movie theater. It is the story of Viv�ah Viv�a latter-day Helen of Troy, the lonely wife of Henry Stamper and object of Lee�s intended revenge upon the hated clan of his birth. Oh, and it�s the story of love, death, small town life, big business, labor and a few other incidental subjects here and there.
This was Kesey�s second novel, and while I�d read One Flew Over the Cuckoo�s Nest in college, nothing prepared me for the magnificence of this book. Hell, I hadn�t even heard of it.
First, the writing is brilliant. It�s a tough read at parts. Kesey has a way of jumping from narrative to inner monologue to spoken dialogue and then back to one or the other in no particular order, much as real life tends to unfold. Very hard to follow at times, but when you get the hang of it, it�s brilliant.
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