Sometimes A Great Notion

Sometimes A Great Notion

Book - 1977
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The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sailor Song is a wild-spirited and hugely powerful tale of an Oregon logging clan.

A bitter strike is raging in a small lumber town along the Oregon coast. Bucking that strike out of sheer cussedness are the Stampers: Henry, the fiercely vital and overpowering patriarch; Hank, the son who has spent his life trying to live up to his father; and Viv, who fell in love with Hank's exuberant machismo but now finds it wearing thin. And then there is Leland, Henry's bookish younger son, who returns to his family on a mission of vengeance - and finds himself fulfilling it in ways he never imagined. Out of the Stamper family's rivalries and betrayals, Ken Kesey crafted a novel with the mythic impact of Greek tragedy.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 1977
Copyright Date: ©1964
ISBN: 9780140045291
Branch Call Number: FIC KESEY
Characteristics: 628 pages ; 20 cm


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WestSlope_TheaH Aug 21, 2018

I think this is the best book by Springfield, Oregon’s own Ken Kesey---he himself called it the best thing he’d ever write---despite how well-known One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Sometimes a Great Notion as the “best northwest novel.” This story of the wild-spirited Stamper clan and their family rivalries in the midst of a bitter lumber strike is gritty, bold, and haunting, and successfully captures the rainy magic of the Oregon coast.

Jun 21, 2018

A magnificent effort, with the least appealing character you'll ever meet in a work of fiction

Feb 25, 2017

I read this book years ago and thought it was incredible. I used to own it, then lent it out and it never came back - I hope whoever got it loved it so much they couldn't bear to return it! I'm going to read it again and see if it's as amazing as I remember.

Feb 11, 2016

For my money, "Sometimes a Great Notion" is The Great American Novel, against which, "Huckleberry Finn," often given that title, can’t hold a candle and seems a mere twaddling piece of kiddie lit. Twain may have the greater reputation as a writer, but in my mind Kesey the writer is the greater. While Twain foregrounds the relation of a black man and a white boy to highlight both the shame of slavery and the promise of emancipation and its near-fulfillment in the Civil Rights movement, Kesey eschews portraying historical American race relations directly and only tips his cap to it by having the Stampers use the word, "nigger," against any- and every-one, be they black, red, or white, even kin. Kesey makes individualism the essence of his novel and, by extension, the essence of Americanism, certainly an arguable position.

The story is about an immigrant family, a family which has anxiously and continually picked up and moved on, westward of course, echoing the ever-westward movement that characterized the early part of our history, until they are stopped by the sea and settle in Oregon’s timber country, focusing on the latest two generations of that family and their outward relationship to the neighboring townspeople and to the local economy, as well as to their intra-familial conflicts and commitment, yearning and frustration, allegiance and betrayals, deception and fidelity, jealousy and devotion.

The writing rivals Faulkner in its daring, depth, and power but remains sharp and clear even in its experimental structure. In one paragraph, a character may be revealed by an omniscient narrator, while in the immediately following paragraph the character, himself, continues the story in the first person, interior monologues punctuating straightforward narrative. A paragraph may have three or four of the several, continuous, separate, and subordinate narratives progress with a sentence or two each. Another paragraph may have all of the above devices; however, once you get a feel for what is happening and learn who the characters are (fairly quickly and easily, I might add; this is not Tolstoy), it remains perfectly and surprisingly clear. All the while, a straightforward narrative unfolds, even though not temporally sequential at all times. My only quibble would be that near the end I found the extreme commingling of external action with interior experience (often in the same sentence!) difficult to parse carefully though not hard to follow in essence. Nevertheless, this device pushes the action along powerfully; and perhaps that was Kesey’s intention, the confusion actually conveying the nature of the conflict being depicted.

Dec 16, 2015

Is this the definitive Oregon novel? Big, brawny and almost palpably soaked in coastal rain, Ken Kesey's ambitious, sprawling, thick follow-up to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is at least one of the top contenders for the title. For fans of "East of Eden," Thomas Wolfe & logging.
PS-I really want to open a food cart called Sometimes a Great Taco.

brianreynolds Nov 22, 2015

Greek tragedy indeed! I thought sure that's where the train was headed until the last minute when Kesey pulled a switch and parked at full speed in comedy. It was a rough ride and when it pulled into the final station, I was not sure it mattered much what that station was; I'd finished, I could finally step down onto solid ground, I could exhale at last and reflect. The title finally made some sense. I could finally forgive the redneck misogynist characters. I could stop hearing the jumble of thoughts and words of an entire town all interacting at the same time. It became quiet. I became certain it was a ride I would never forget, one I can't imagine how I missed taking it until now, or how I presumed to read and write all these decades without having experienced Sometimes a Great Notion up close and personal. Well, yes and yes and yes... It was not only a textbook on good writing, not only a story that eventually became an addiction, it was a voice that spoke to both my head and my heart at the same time. I guess that makes it amazing.

multcolib_central Aug 08, 2014

One of the first pieces of american literature takes place on the Oregon coast. This engrossing multi-layered tales sentences glide past, pulling the reader into the gripping story. Kesey doesn't play favorites with his characters, all have a complex story to tell.

Apr 18, 2014

a very rewarding book, it starts a bit slow then gets moving, this is kesey's true masterpiece, you won't regret it

Jun 01, 2012

I have read this title only once, but plan to re-read it because I found it very rewarding. One notable feature of the book is the large number of characters, each with a personal history that is well-developed and deeply intertwined with the histories and futures of the other characters. This book left me with a profound sense of perspective on life. This title, although not as famous as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, reaches its reader more deeply because its circumstances, although piquant, relate in some way to the simple motions of life that every person experiences. Very highly recommended.

johnmarkeberhart Oct 25, 2010

I hadn't re-read this book for several years. I remembered it being long, and dense at the beginning especially, and challenging. But my experience with it this time was more rewarding than ever. This book is about a lot of things -- the nature of work and its place in our lives, the almost absurd complexities of interpersonal communication, and even the question of whether we're fated to act in certain ways based on our upbringing. Mostly, though -- it's just a great, great story. And I've rarely seen character development this deep. Even beyond the two central figures of Hank and Leland Stamper, these people practically jump off the page and sit down over coffee (or a beer in the Snag) with you. Kesey, at his best, wrote books that were big, brawling, larger or at least as large as life itself. Highly recommended.


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Mar 30, 2017

"That's the one thing that everybody else in the world can do, ain't it, Willard? Is is the hassle".

Jun 01, 2012

"Never give an inch."


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