It is with no small amount of irony that one of the last things Ken Kesey did before he died on Nov. 10, 2001, was to write a new foreword for his first and most revolutionary novel,
The updated 40th anniversary edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which had been in the works for some time, features more than 25 line drawings by the author, a new introduction by literary critic and English scholar Robert Faggen, and a striking orange dust jacket with Kesey's art on the cover.
Fresh out of the creative writing program at Stanford University, Kesey took a position as an attendant at a psychiatric hospital in Menlo Park, Calif. But before that, strangely enough, he had participated in government-sponsored psychopharmacology experiments at the same mental ward at the same hospital where he would later work. While there, Kesey began scribbling notes and taking sketches of both the inmates and staff, paper jottings that would later become one of the great novels of both the Pacific Northwest and the 20th century. "I also scribbled faces. No, that's not correct. As I prowl through this stack of sketches I can see that these faces bored their way behind my forehead and scribbled themselves," he writes. "I just held the pen and waited for the magic to happen. This was, after all, the Sixties."
Inspired by the Beats and liberated by drugs, Kesey went on to found the Merry Pranksters. His psychedelic school bus adventures have become the stuff of American pop culture legend. With this new edition, readers will rediscover Kesey formulating the themes that would come to identify his life's work. A searing parable of psychiatry's dubious claims, the social upheaval of the 1960s and good versus evil, the book remains as fresh as when it was first written 40 years ago. Randle Patrick McMurphy's vital struggle against both Big Nurse Ratched and the soul-killing mechanism of "The Combine" is related in terms both ribald and poetic.