One of the few guarantees you will ever find in life is that Ken Kesey will forever be best known for writing One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. With that in mind, many people may be surprised or even shocked to learn Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, published in 1964, is almost universally regarded by critics and scholars as superior. Indeed, much of this notion toward the superiority of his second novel is located within the sphere of ambition and scope.
Sometimes a Great Notion clocks in at over 600 pages with a story told from multiple perspectives through the use of a variety of narrative techniques. This Faulknerian approach to storytelling is applied to labyrinthine plot in which setting and regionalism becomes inextricably linked to the structural strategy. This is a big novel in which the center of its thematic expression are the big men charged with cutting down big trees. Size matters, but sometimes a great nation requires putting things in proper perspective and treating things on their proper scale.
Kesey lived among the Oregon loggers that he would fictionalize into the characters in his novel, recognizing the importance of getting the realistic details right in order to make the novel come alive. This is especially important since the book is concerned with many of the same themes regarding individualism versus conformity which strike a chord with so many readers of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Lacking colorful yet essentially allegorical representations of those opposing concepts in the characters of McMurphy and Nurse Ratched and instead choosing to explore these themes with greater complexity, creating more fully developed three-dimensional characters necessitated Kesey’s extensive research into the conflicting world wildcatters versus union loggers.
Sometimes a Great Notion was adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner in 2008. In 1970, a film version was released that can also be found under the title Never Give an Inch. Generally well-received and nominated for two Academy Awards, the film may actually be more famous for its status as the first movie ever broadcast by revolutionary new network called Home Box Office (HBO).