I live in the Northwest. My bookish friends have said to me, “What? You live in the Northwest and you’ve never read SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION?!” Well now I have. The 628-page classic, written by Ken Kesey of the Merry Pranksters group, has become seared into my brain. Published in 1964, the plot revolves around the fictional Stamper logging family who reside along the Oregon coast.
The setting is the mid-1900s, when loyalty still meant something. The logging industry, as dangerous as ever, also faced challenges in unions and strikes. The story itself is told in an ever-changing, and sometimes challenging, POV between the main characters of Hank Stamper, the oldest son, Lee, the half-brother of Hank, and to a lesser extent Old Henry, the patriarch. In the Stamper family there swirls the permeation of orneriness, perseverance, resolution, and obliviousness, among other attributes.
The mythos of brotherly love is also put to the test. Lee, having been on the East coast since the age of twelve, returns to the family home in Wakonda as a young man bent on settling a score.
A wide variety of characters inhabit the small town of Wakonda and they all have important struggles within themselves. The local prostitute, Simone, struggles with her religious background. Willard, a quiet man with a secret, struggles with a life-altering decision. We each have our own struggles and in that, we can closely relate with some of these people.
Mr. Kesey grew up in Oregon and he describes the flora and fauna in exquisite detail:
In the deer-grass meadows the long last of the summer’s flowers take long last looks through the fall’s first frost at the dark garden of stars and wave their windy good-bys: the spiderwort and blue verrain, the trout lily and adder’s tongue, the bleeding heart and pearly everlasting, and the carrion weed with is death scented bloom. In the Scandinavian slums at the edge of town bloodroot vines reach garroting fingers for knotholes, warpholes, and window sills. The tide grinds piling against dock, dock against piling.
It was a bit disconcerting to have the POV changing so often, especially when it happened two or three times in one paragraph, but it was an interesting effect when the heat was turned up and the pace of the thoughts ran faster as well.
A build-up of a feeling of dread was pervasive about mid-way through the book and it was not unwarranted.
The characters were entirely believable and fleshed-out. Joe-Ben was a favorite goof-ball and the thoughts of bar-owner Teddy were circumspect.
SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION is very much worth your effort to read.