Author: Ken Kesey
# pages: 715
Date published: 1964
Stars: 5 out of 5
Would you recommend it? Yes
“Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump into the river and drown”
These are the lines that Ken Kesey uses as an introduction in his fantastic 1964 novel Sometimes a Great Nation. Lines from a song by Lead Belly, they work as a concise summary of the novel as well as an opening into its themes.
Although the work tells of logging community in Oregon, the river surrounding the town is what drives the narrative forward. As we see a family of loggers take over, the only force that seems to have any effect on them is the river. This novel is far more realistic than Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the character of the river is so vivid and almost visceral that it is hard not be captivated by Kesey’s descriptions: the river becomes a character itself.
In spite of this easily discernable, straightforward plot, in which a family founds a logging community and one of its members seeks revenge against his brother, whom he sees as representative of everything wrong about the community, this plot is secondary to the description of the river, to the way that the description of the town and the town’s surroundings engulf the narrative. At certain moments, the characters’ physical experiences are more important than their emotional development. When one of them swims in the river, for instance, Kesey focuses on the water against his skin.
Overall, Sometimes a Great Nation is a fantastic book and definitely recommended for anyone who likes a good (but long) read.
Review by Michael Solah, A&S '16