DEMON BOX by Ken Kesey
Kirkus Star


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An elegiac semi-fiction composed of short takes and longer reprints from Rolling Stone, Esquire and Kesey's own magazine, Spit in the Ocean, now orchestrated into a large work whose parts sing against each other and whose overriding theme is a magnificent dirge for the 60's. Demon Box is also a superb rounding out and bookend to all the works springing from Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957). What Kerouac began Kesey has finished--and finished with great style and feeling. There are two or three Ken Keseys: the one who wrote two inspired novels (1962's marvelous One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and 1964's more daring Sometimes a Great Notion), and the one who shifted from literature to life and became a retired novelist/Oregon farmer. There is also the public Kesey, father of the Merry Pranksters, a celebrated bus-load of psychedelic rebels set on bringing America into the fourth dimension of lysergic acid, whose antics were chronicled in the pop-art prose of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It's the public Kesey we first meet here, being released from the San Marco (Cal.) County slammer after serving a six-month term for possession and cultivation of weed. This Kesey still has a prankster's aura, but that soon sours and fades, along with the famed psychedelic bus rotting on his farm. Here, Devlin E. Deboree, Kesey's alter ego, seems somewhere between a squire and a farmer. Like Henry Miller, to whom Demon Box owes a large debt, he spends a lot of time fending off unwanted hippie visitors who regard him as a national monument to unfettered freedom. Most of these rancid travelers come away unhappy with their encounter, seeing their man as a power tripper and guru gone rotten. Says one poisonous dropout, "I never read Sometimes a Cuckoo Nest but I saw the flick." Part of the time Deboree is away, on a trip to Mexico, or on a writing jaunt for Rolling Stone, searching for the riddle of the pyramids in Cairo, of marathon running to the Great Wall of China, or of madness at a psychiatrists' convention in Disney World. A highlight, however, is Kesey's great prose poem to the lost faces of the 60's ("Hello faces. Come back. Come on back all of you even LBJ with your Texas cheeks eroded by compromises come back. Khrushchev, fearless beyond peasant ignorance, healthy beside Eisenhower, come back both of you. James Dean all picked apart and Tab Hunter all put together. Michael Rennie in your silver suit the day the earth stood still for peace, come back all of you. . .").
Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0140085300
Page count: 412pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1986


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