KESEY, KEN [ELTON] (1935– ). Ken Kesey was born in La Junta,
Colorado, and soon moved to Oregon, where he now lives. He developed
a love of hunting and fishing as a child, and much of his writing employs
the lush natural settings and small towns of the Pacific Northwest*as fitting
places for discussions of the economic exploitation and potential barbarity
of the institutionalized management of natural resources, communities, and
Near the end of Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), the
protagonist, Randle McMurphy, leads a band of inmates from a mental hospital on a fishing trip off the Oregon coast. This trip provides the inmates
with a renewed sense of the “normal” world from which they have been
exiled and concludes with their doctor’s catching an abnormally large flounder. The trip provides the inmates with a sense of community and freedom
that is contrasted with the strictures of the institution from which they have
escaped. It has been suggested that the flounder represents, among other
possibilities, the inmates’ long-denied opportunity to liberate themselves
from their problems and to expand their spirits and horizons. The 1975 film
adaptation starred Jack Nicholson.
Kesey’s later novel Sailor Song (1992) is set in a remote fishing village in
Alaska and includes a colorful cast of characters, most of whom make their
living from fishing. When the son of one of the town’s leading citizens
invades the community with a Hollywood camera crew intent on filming a
famous children’s story about a Native American tribe, conflict ensues between those eager for the economic boom that the film will surely provide
and those who suspect more sinister motives behind the filmmakers’ presence. Much of the book’s action takes place on luxurious yachts moving up
and down the Alaskan coast. Omnipresent in the novel is a double vision
of the sea as both a place of destruction and one of overwhelming fecundity.