Those who read On the Road and like it tend to have picked i up when they were most receptive: as starry-eyed adolescents who drink it up as, like Dara says, pure wish-fulfillment fantasy. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call Dean Moriarty a “manic pixie dream dude,” or at least not one with a couple more layers of complication there. If you’re reading the book while taking the narrator at face value, and ignoring the fact that these are real people with the names and a couple trivial details changed, then sure. But I think there are other ways of reading the book, and the character, that yield further rewards even once you’re out of the phase where the premise of the book dazzles all on its own.
I started to get a sense of this when I read another Kerouac book, The Dharma Bums. By the time that novel was written, Kerouac was a full-blown alcoholic, and the fact that the narrator had no clue why Allen Ginsberg was angry at him for waking up every morning with a flask of whiskey drove the point home even more: not all was well with Sal Paradise.
Not long afterwards, I read On the Road: The Original Scroll, the single-chapter, single-paragraph, non-fiction tome that Kerouac originally turned into publishers before they decided they wanted it to be a “novel” and “readable.” In that version, the prose is much rawer, the implied homosexuality is explicit, and Dean Moriarty is, of course, Neal Cassaday.
Reading it again, and taking Jack Kerouac as an unreliable narrator, I realized for the first time that Cassaday was actually kind of a sociopath. He seems like a “manic pixie dream dude” if you’re as dazzled by his antics and seeming authenticity (whatever you want to take that to mean) as Kerouac, but I think it’s a much more interesting book when you read it with an eye for the flaws in both Kerouac and Cassaday that the former never acknowledges.