Academic journal article American Studies

IT'S ALL A KIND OF MAGIC: The Young Ken Kesey

Academic journal article American Studies

IT'S ALL A KIND OF MAGIC: The Young Ken Kesey

Article excerpt

IT'S ALL A KIND OF MAGIC: The Young Ken Kesey. By Rick Dodgson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 2013.

Rick Dodgson's account of the early life of Ken Kesey presents the One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) author (and counterculture icon) as a bold, arrogant, and chauvinistic young man. Kesey identified closely with Hollywood rebels Mar- lon Brando and James Dean. He was a talented wrestler (and even tried out for the Olympic team), and he was a popular member of his fraternity at the University of Oregon. At parties and in graduate school courses, Kesey insisted on being the center of attention, and, in Dodgson's words, "either you could decide to like . . . his alpha male personality, or you could let him irritate the hell out of you" (166). The irritated included many of Kesey's neighbors, classmates, and instructors, often with good reason.

But Dodgson also captures Kesey's undeniable talent as a writer and performer. He traces Kesey's early fascination with magic, acting, and writing for his school newspapers. He also touches on Kesey's many unsuccessful attempts to find work in Hollywood, and, in one of the most fascinating accounts in the book, discusses the failure of the Kirk Douglas-led Broadway adaptation of Cuckoo's Nest. Having sold the rights, Kesey also forfeited royalties from subsequent theatrical interpretations and the award-winning film version, starring Jack Nicholson.

Strangely, Dodgson focuses very little on Cuckoo's Nest or Kesey's follow-up Sometimes a Great Notion (1964). Even more surprisingly, he says very little about the Sixties counterculture itself. The book ends, anticlimactically, just before Kesey's famous, drug-infused 1964 road trip with the Merry Pranksters, but Dodgson never fully explains the trip's historical significance. …

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