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This is a pretty tough book, in many ways: the violence and abuse perpetrated by the staff of the mental institution where the story is set is uncomfortable to read (and I have a daughter who is permanently institutionalised, so it cuts rather close to home). Also I was rather dismayed by the racism and sexism of the story: the only black characters are the brutal male nurses (though the narrator is half Native American); the main female character is the Big Evil Nurse (the other women depicted are two prostitutes and the Little Good Nurse, who comes in only at the end). It was probably not Kesey's intention, but I could see white American men who believe that they are being oppressed taking comfort and inspiration from this novel.

Having said that, it would be the wrong message. The book is about disorder and development - disorder in two senses, the mental disorders that many of the patients suffer and the disorder and subversion that McMurphy brings to the ward, and the opportunities he offers for his fellow inmates to develop n new directions. There is a tremendously cathartic couple of chapters about a deep-sea fishing expedition which almost summarises the entire book. The violent conclusion leaves several key characters dead but gives others the means of liberating themselves. So in the end I was glad to have read it, though I will not come back to it any time soon.

Top LibraryThing Unsuggestion: Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by Haddon W. Robinson


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
I can strongly recommend the film of this if you haven't seen it. It's a slightly different animal from the book - I think a couple of plot points are changed, though I can't remember exactly how now. But it is equally hard-hitting and poignant, and brings out the themes in the book very effectively.

You might also find Tom Wolfe's book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in which Kesey features as a character, of interest.
Feb. 28th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
Key change is it's not from Chief Broom's POV - which may of course be the book's defense against sexism and racism; it's twenty years since I read Sometimes a Great Notion, and I haven't read the later novel(s) (I think there were two - Sailor Song and Last Go Round.)

I fear Kesey's of that generation of US writers where freedom meant as much freedom from getting women pregnant as equality of the sexes, and he was writing in a still segregated America. (The Beat Generation, to whom he was linked via Neal Cassasy, were hardly less problematic with women being represented, but idolised African Americans via jazz.)

The ending of the film and book still make me cry.

[The film would have been too Carrie/Shining if it had kept the slime oozing down the walls of the book, and has an astonishing cast. Brad Dourif as Billy; Nicholson rarely better and winning an Oscar, Louise Fletcher winning one for a thankless role of Nurse Ratchett. Danny de Vito and Christopher Lloyd working together preTaxi. Michael Douglas (if I recall having bought the rights from his dad) as producer.]

Edited at 2010-02-28 02:50 pm (UTC)
Mar. 2nd, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
I remember being amazed by Sometimes a Great Notion, the great book.
I also remember that my rule - see the movie first, then read the book, because the movie will be a mere shadow of the book - was prompted by Cuckoo's Nest. I had high expectations of the movie, due to its reaction and to my reading of the book. The movie wasn't bad, but it failed to live up to my perhaps unreasonable expectations.
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