Sometimes a Great Notion

Sometimes a Great Notion

by Ken Kesey

The magnificent second novel from the legendary author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest...

Out of the Stamper family's rivalries and betrayals Ken Kesey has crafted a novel with the mythic impact of Greek tragedy.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 4.21
  • Pages: 640
  • Publish Date: July 28th 1977 by Penguin Books
  • Isbn10: 0140045295
  • Isbn13: 9780140045291

What People Think about "Sometimes a Great Notion"

Oh my goodness what an incredible book. It's an incredible familyHenry, the patriarch, the crazed, stubborn old goat who started the logging business; his son Hank (stoic, serious, earnest, proud, charming) and Hank's cousin Joe Ben (brimming with enthusiasm and joy and good will), who now run the company; Hank's gorgeous and quiet and wonderful wife Viv; and Hank's much younger half-brother Leland, an intellectual and a weakling who fled the rough workaday life as soon as he was old enough, and now lives in New York where he is finishing college. There has been a lifelong and mostly unspoken rivalry between the brothers, but because the Stampers have run afoul of the logging union, Hank and Joe Ben write to Leland, asking him to come back home to help make a big run. Everyone has always hated the Stampers anyway, because they are big and strong and stubborn and put everyone else to shame, and now the whole town is seriously turning against them. Above all, this is a book about people, filled with some of the most fascinating and deeply drawn characters I have come across in a terribly long time. I haven't said hardly anything about Hank, Joe Ben, Viv, Leland, and Henry, because if I start writing about them, I'll end up transcribing the entire six-hundred-page book here. Because I will tell you right now, this book made me cry. While reading this book for pleasure, I am also proofing an erotic vampire romance novel for work (I wish that was a lie). And you would think that the stark contrast between, you know, amateur silliness and a serious work of literature would bring this book into absolute focus. But what's seriously blowing my mind is that there are all sorts of parallels between the two books, in odd and creepy ways.

"Sometimes I lives in the country Sometimes I lives in town Sometimes I take a great notion To jump into the river an drown" I know little about Oregon State, what little I do know is that it's damp almost all of the time, has it's fair share of trees and woodland, and it's where 'The Goonies' and 'Stand by Me' were filmed, and River Phoenix was born there. Ken Kesey's 'Sometimes a Great Notion' is quite simply a contemporary American masterpiece, set on the rain soaked Oregon coast, the fictional town of Wakonda early in the 1960's. A huge chunk of the narrative takes place within the walls of the Stampers residents, and has an almost voyeuristic sensibility, and conversations between family members can seem to last for tens of pages at a time. There is lots of slang talk and derogatory comments made throughout, even the 'N' word gets used a lot, but this simply reiterates the "off the beaten track" type of people we are dealing with, living out on the river in seclusion, they take to hunting and setting traps for animals,as a way to provide for food when getting into town is difficult. If I could sum up the Stampers in one word that would be 'Stubborn', the house for example appears to be about to fall apart at any time, the interiors are awash with er...mess, they are living so far in the past, but nothing and no one will get them to change, they firmly hold their ground!

Sometimes a Great Notion is a book of collisions: reason against foolishness, spirit against flesh, sanity against madness, individual against community, man against nature one against many.

The storyline didnt grab me right away but Keseys writing did. Every character has a turn at first person voice and the speaker can switch several times, sometimes even within a single paragraph. Seems confusing but I rarely had to reread because Kesey is that good. Question: Why didnt Kesey ever manage to be that good again?

Hands down the most underappreciated American novel ever!


In the first hundred pages, there were a few paragraphs that had, internally, four different perspectives. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

I must admit that the premise for this novel a strike in the logging industry during the 1960s didnt exactly set my heart aflutter with excitement, but I loved Keseys writing so much in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest that I really wanted to give this one a chance. What is it like to feel intense hatred for someone and be cursed to incurably love them at the same time? Its about the consequences of our decisions and the way one moment can change the rest of ones life.

Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion (Bantam Windstone, 1964) I really, really wanted to like this book. Kesey knows what he wants to say and says it. But if Cuckoo is Kesey's Christmas Carol, then Sometimes a Great Notion is Kesey's Bleak House.

If you like long novels, this is one well worth spending your time reading. My favorite Steinbeck novel is East of Eden. I think Sometimes a Great Notion was Kesey's East of Eden.

American writer, who gained world fame with his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962, filmed 1975). His first work was an unpublished novel, ZOO, about the beatniks of the North Beach community in San Francisco. Tom Wolfe described in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) Kesey and his friends, called the Merry Pranksters, as they traveled the country and used various hallucinogens. These experiences as a part-time aide at a psychiatric hospital, LSD sessions - and a vision of an Indian sweeping there the floor - formed the background for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, set in a mental hospital. He formed a band of "Merry Pranksters", set up a commune in La Honda, California, bought an old school bus, and toured America and Mexico with his friends, among them Neal Cassady, Kerouac's travel companion. After this tumultuous period he bought farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, settled down with his wife to raise their four children, and taught a graduate writing seminar at the University of Oregon. His later works include the children's book Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear(1990) and Sailor Song (1992), a futuristic tale about an Alaskan fishing village and Hollywood film crew.