One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Let's just call it a sabbatical, okay? After taking almost a year off, I've decided to tiptoe back into this space and see what happens. A friend recently had the idea for an online book group-ish thing. Here's how he launched it:

Now, granted, he travels in rather academic circles, being a professor and all, but LOOK: 316 people want to participate in this venture? 316 people want to read the same book and discuss it online and in person, [if we want]? That is some cool business, right there.

The first book voted in was Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I will admit that I wasn't all that keen on the idea. I'd seen the play and was pretty sure I'd seen the movie, and even if I hadn't, I knew who Jack Nicholson was, so what more could the book offer me? Y'all, the overwhelming answer to that question is PLENTY.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is more everything than I expected. More intelligent, more subtle, more bawdy, more heartbreaking, more beautiful. By placing us inside the head of the supposedly deaf-mute Chief Bromden, Kesey allows us access to mental health and humanity in complex and lovely ways. I read a library copy, so I don't have all the thought-provoking passages underlined, but there are several. I did tweet a few favorite lines, including this one:

I know I'm not stepping out of the norm when I say the most amazing part of this novel is the character of Randle Patrick McMurphy; however, if you are envisioning Jack Nicholson when you think of him, I think you're doing it wrong. Jack Nicholson is a genius actor, and I have since figured out I haven't seen this movie yet, but I can't figure out how they could possibly capture the perspective achieved through Bromden's interior voice. I don't think Nicholson can quiet himself enough to make it not about him. The beauty and wonder of McMurphy is not his brashness (which I'm sure Nicholson can do in spades); rather, it is his underlying and insistent compassion. He is a hero, and I'm afraid Nicholson would make him more a caricature than Kesey ever intended.
Turns out, Kesey himself had issues with the movie:
The film is considered to be one of the greatest American films. Ken Kesey participated in the early stages of script development, but withdrew after creative differences with the producers over casting and narrative point-of-view; ultimately he filed suit against the production and won a settlement.[10] Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[11] a fact confirmed by Chuck Palahniuk who wrote, "The first time I heard this story, it was through the movie starring Jack Nicholson. A movie that Kesey once told me he disliked".[12]               Thanks, Wikipedia. You da best. 

I will watch the movie, but I am so very glad I got pushed into reading this book. It is important, and I highly recommend it. What do you think? Have you seen the movie? Does it measure up to the beauty of the book? Comment below with your thoughts.


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  2. I just bought the book a few weeks ago but haven't read it yet. I've seen the movie a handful of times and really like it. The acting in the book is very moving--I'll be curious to see how much better the characterization might be in the book (as it usually is).

    1. I just got the movie from the library, and I'm hoping to watch it this weekend once grading is finished! I'm excited because it's supposed to be so good, but also because I think I have enough distance now to not be overly critical in my comparisons to the book.