One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“I’ve given what happened next a good lot of thought, and I’ve come around to thinking that it was bound to be and would have happened one way or another, at this time or that…” (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey)


one-flew-over-the-cuckoo-nest-book-cover3‘Predictable’ has always been one of the worst adjectives I can think of to apply to a book. I save it for particularly gruesome cases, when the plot isn’t just humdrum, it’s so non-innovative I probably used it when I wrote my first (and only) book at age 7. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey proves that predictability can be more than just a byproduct of lazy plotting, it can be wielded as a technique to heighten emotion. From the first scene with McMurphy, the reader senses that the book can only end in one way. Every single time he triumphs over Ratched, every time he throws his big personality around, every time he laughs at an unlaughable situation, you despair over his inevitable fate. The tragedy builds so painfully that, when it finally happens, you feel less anguish, and more relief, than you would have thought possible.

This is also a book to convince you that first person narratives can work. Kesey uses the first person not just as a storytelling viewpoint, but as a way to illustrate the narrator’s mental state. He starts off mad, incomprehensibly so, and ends strong, defiant, purposeful – his voice clear and focused. We get to see his healing take place not through specific events, but through language.

Writers beware: the best way to make sure no one reads your book in the future is to write something ingenious and then turn it into a blockbuster.
Readers: defy the trend that consigns this book to high school classrooms: it will restore your faith in reading.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow Now – Borrow SometimeAvoid
Length: 272 pages
Ending: relief, redemption
Incidental Learning: 1960’s asylums and psychiatric treatments
Further Reading: Infinite Jest is the closest I can come to a read-alike, and it’s an imperfect one at best.
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