It recounts the events surrounding Kerouac‘s (here known by the name of his fictional alter-ego Jack Duluoz) three brief sojourns to a cabin in Bixby Canyon, Big Sur, California, owned by Kerouac’s friend and Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
The novel depicts Duluoz’s mental and physical deterioration in the late 1950s. Duluoz is unable to cope with a suddenly demanding public, and is battling advanced alcoholism.
He seeks respite first in solitude in the cabin at Big Sur, on the California coast, and later in a relationship with Billie, a friend of his long-time friend Cody Pomeray (Neal Cassady). Duluoz finds respite in the Big Sur wilderness, but is driven by loneliness to return to the city, and resumes drinking heavily.
Across Duluoz’s subsequent trips to Big Sur and interleaved lifestyle in San Francisco, his inner turmoil culminates in a nervous breakdown during his third journey to Big Sur.
An addendum to the book contains a free verse poem by Kerouac, “Sea: Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur”, written from the perspective of the Pacific Ocean.
Alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac was a pioneer of the Beat Generation. He is recognized for his style of spontaneous prose. Thematically, his work covers topics such as his Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, life in New York, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel.
He became an underground celebrity and, with other Beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements. He has a lasting legacy, greatly influencing many of the cultural icons of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Doors.