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Desolation Angels: 04/19/16

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac is a follow up to Dharma Bums and in a way, an unwinding of On the Road. I read it for two reasons: one for fun (as I enjoy Kerouac's writing) and for my on-going road narrative project.

While most of my road trip narrative project is a look at the transference of semantics from the physical construction of the road: road signs, road markings, tourist stops, gas stations, motels, etc to the narrational. How we tell and how we read road narratives is derived from our understanding of the physical road. It is this immersion in the road that contributes to the foreign traveler's misinterpretation of the road trip narrative.

On side pocket of my research is Supernatural, a show that in the first couple seasons drew directly from On the Road as demonstrated by the brothers being named Sam (for Sal) and Dean. Along the way, of course, the series has evolved and moved away from the preplanned paranormal homage to Kerouac's most famous book.

They've since picked up a number of regular characters, including a third lead, Castiel, a misguided angel now on a perpetual road trip. Given his duster and other retro clothing choices, he's built as a character out of a road trip story from the golden era of the genre — back when cars were new and the Interstate highway was still a pipe dream.

Given all the hardships Castiel (and his vessel) have been through, he is the embodiment of a desolation angel. You can see why I had to read this book to see if there was something of it in the later seasons of Supernatural. The short of it is yes and no.

The book is divided into four parts: the loneliness on Desolation Peak looking for enlightenment; the meeting up with friends in San Francisco; travels down to Mexico; and finally, travels back home to New York. In terms of Castiel's evolution as a character, it's a similar path: the righteous believer praying for closeness to god (and ultimately giving up his life to be the vessel for an angel); the hooking up with other earthbound angels and going a bit crazy with them; hitting the road to be a hunter with Sam and Dean; and the returning home to Heaven (albeit it temporarily) as the new God.

The writing of Desolation Angels is more free form poetry than prose. Kerouac goes for run on sentences divided by em dashes. It takes a while to get used to this approach to story telling but after awhile it all flows together. It's perhaps a bit like reading scripture, though of a completely secular nature.

While I didn't fall into the book with the same enthusiasm as I did with On the Road or Dharma Bums, I am glad I read it. I have notes taken for my project and will be posting them on Tumblr in the near future.

Three stars

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