Big Sur followed Kerouac's definitive On the Road and portrays a vastly different life and dark mindset of Kerouac, although one that brings On the Road full circle. I read On the Road three years ago while driving out Seattle via Denver and absolutely fell in love with the plans-be-damned storyline and the writing style that Truman Capote famously said "isn't writing at all, it's typing".
I was expecting more of the enthralling, hundred-mile-an-hour-story in Big Sur that I had found so appealing in On The Road, but instead it shows Kerouac coping with the stardom that accompanied his "Beat-epic" and his attempt to find some sort an escape; but it is obvious that he has trouble embracing any other life than the one that made him famous. Some of my favorite parts of Big Sur is when Kerouac describes beatnik kids coming up to him and telling him about their life hoping to get some sort of confirmation from the "Beat king" that they were doing life right. Kerouac refuses and is unable to provide that sort of direction. Even more telling about Kerouac's inner dispute is his relationship from characters from On the Road , such as Neal Cassady (named Cody in Big Sur) who has a wife and family with a regular job - a much different character than OTR.
Initially, I was pretty disappointed in this different tone because I wanted to be inspired with that restless feeling that On The Road had captured so well and romanticized. Big Sur shows Kerouac losing his mind unable to find a peaceful resolution and the eroding relationships around him. However, after completing it, I feel like it completes the story of On the Road - just not in the way I dreamed. During On the Road, I never got the feeling that anyone could keep up that lifestyle forever and Big Sur reveals On The Road perhaps finally catching up with Kerouac.
Some other media suggestions related to Big Sur. There was a documentary made in 2008, which I haven't seen yet but will probably try to find it in the next week or so. Also, Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard released an album that, I think, served as the soundtrack for the documentary, but I'm not sure. That album is called "One Fast Move or I'm Gone" and is pretty good, especially after reading the book, I think they capture that mood of the writing quite well. Gibbard also talked about Kerouac and Big Sur in an article for Paste Magazine entitled "The Meaning of Life".
Like I said, I read Big Sur trying to recapture a sense of restless adventure that I feel like I've been craving as of late. That didn't happen. So.... I'm probably going to re-read On The Road quite soon. If you've read Kerouac's stuff, I think you have to read Big Sur as it continues the story and sheds a bit more light on life post-stardom. If you're interested in checking this out, I think you'll appreciate it more after reading On The Road.