One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest CoverAm I a terrible person? To like a piece of literature so criticized for its racism and misogyny seems to suggest as much. And I see the truth in the arguments, though I would suggest that it should be regarded less as racist and misogynist literature, and more as real literature, literature that accurately portrays some aspects of the racist and misogynist world Kesey found himself within. But I can’t dwell too much on that aspect of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or else I can sit here arguing until I’m blue in the face while hardly mentioning the story itself.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest finds itself dated, not because of the aforementioned flaws, and not to say that it’s behind the times, but because you can sense when it was written with a feel of Kesey’s style, influenced heavily by Beat literature. (It’s probably no coincidence that Naked Lunch was published one year before Kesey began work on his story.) With Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey appropriates some of William Burroughs’ grotesque fearlessness, but makes it much more palatable to a wider audience, either by toning it down to some extent or by not letting it carry the story for any extreme lengths of time. This makes Kesey’s masterpiece significantly more readable than something like Naked Lunch. The author utilizes this to the greatest extent with the narrator ––who also happens to, easily, be the most well-crafted character in the book––having him drift into nightmarish psychoses just as I was starting to feel comfort in his lucid normality, one of the many reminders that nothing and no one is as it seems in this worrisome world.

So, is it “dated?” I believe so. Racist? Perhaps, though I doubt it. Did the author mould a distinct style to prop up his narrative effectively? I’m pretty sure. And is the novel superbly written? Most definitely.