Reviewed by Rachel
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those books that I think everyone’s at least heard of – if not read themselves. It’s a familiar story, with both substantial literary themes and characters that have transcended the confines of the novel. It’s both a difficult read and an easy story to follow. And I honestly did not think that I was going to love the book as much as I did. It wasn’t an assigned title in high school or college, yet I’ve had a copy since the eleventh grade. Reading it now, though, with almost ten more years of life (and literary) experience, just underscored how much is packed into Ken Kesey’s rather short work of prose. And with just a scant fifteen pages of introduction by the author and various Wikipedia pages to whet my thirst, I’m left with the nagging thought: would I have fared any better in high school if I’d had a more knowledgeable source to subtly push my understanding toward something resembling the Unknowable Truth?
I just don’t know.
More than anything, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a struggle. There was just so much thought put into every sentence, every character, and every interaction that I was kind of overwhelmed by how much I was probably missing. Was there some backstory to a dialogue exchange that I was supposed to know about? Was there a historical component to each patient and their diagnosis that I didn’t pick up on?? Would I have fared better knowing the socio-political environment of a mental institution in Oregon in the 1960s???
Even though most of the people who are reading this are not in school and the novel just hit its 50th birthday, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is still worth a read. Read it if you never have. Read it even if you’ve seen the movie. Read it if you were one of those high school seniors assigned the book in English class and didn’t like it. Read it again. Just read it!!! The novel’s worth the time and effort it takes to fully comprehend its story, and Kesey does a fantastic job personifying the novel’s themes of power and autonomy in his characters as well as juxtaposing narrative arcs as the story progresses.
No wonder this book’s been floating around since 1962 – it’s awesome and amazing. (And I hope you think so, too.)