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Doctor Sax Hardcover – December 19, 1996
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'Spooky and tender with stretches of sheer phosphorescent fantasy, Doctor Sax has a vigour and thirst for life. A real prize, one of the lost gems of modern literature.' Rolling Stone --Rolling Stone
'Duluoz is exuberantly profane and comfortably delinquent, and like any right-thinking twelve year old, he is a track addict. On cold winter mornings, he scribbles out racing forms and stages elaborate handicap races with marbles. Full of pinball prose, Doctor Sax is an elegy to the warm, safe smells of a tenement kitchen and the dark mysteries of a city neighbourhood. It is Kerouac's best book.' Time 'Vivid, moving and funny' Guardian --Guardian
About the Author
Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the youngest of three children in a French-Canadian family. Having left college, he joined the merchant marines and began the restless wanderings that were to continue for the greater part of his life. His first novel, The Town and the City, was published in 1950. On the Road, although written in 1951 (in a few hectic days on a scroll of newsprint), was not published until 1957 - it made him one of the most controversial and best-known writers of his time. Publication of his many other books, among them The Subterraneans, Doctor Sax and Desolation Angels, followed. Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida at the age of forty-seven.
Top customer reviews
If you love Kerouac, poetry, and have a flair for the abstract, then this is well worth your time. If you like reading maps and floor-plans masquerading as books, then stick with Michael Crichton and the like.
The stories of his childhood - a brown bathrobe, a flood, scaring oneself silly with shadowy characters inspired by radio dramas, acting out a rich fantasy life (stealing swim trunks and scaring a friend as "The Black Thief") along with the flavor of French-Canadian French. The story focuses little on technology or current events - aside from the flood - and makes only one mention of racial segregation.
Despite the lack of current events -- the protagonists rich fantasy life reflects some kind of battles, heroes and villains, reflected in the current events of the time without really referring to those events -- more generalized than specific foes.
A fast fun read - definitely a different take on the same sort of privileged white male preadolescence in "Dandelion Wine" or other similar stories.
"Dr. Sax" differs from "On the Road" and the other books in the LOA collection in that it is set in Lowell, Massachusetts, the town where Kerouac grew up. Lowell is a small mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River. During Kerouac's boyhood, it was home to a substantial French-Canadian immigrant population, to a community of Greek Americans and to several other diverse ethnic groups. Kerouac's parents were both immigrants from French Canada. They spoke a dialect of French in their home and Kerouac did not learn English until he was about seven years old. A fascinating part of "Dr. Sax" is the French dialogue among Kerouac and his family -- with Kerouac immediately providing an English rendition in addition to the French.
The book is written from the perspective of an adult -- Kerouac in 1952 in Mexico City -- looking back and reflecting upon his childhood and early adolescence from the standpoint of his ongoing difficult life as a writer struggling for publication and combating his own inner demons of drugs and alcohol. It opens with a dream, and Kerouac tells the reader that "memory and dream are intermixed in this mad universe." The book features a strange character the young Kerouac invented named Dr. Sax, a sinister figure in a cape and slouch hat. Dr. Sax is accompanied by other bizzare characters including Count Cordu the Vampire, the Great Snake, the Wizard, and others who live in a large weed-grown abandoned house on a snake-infested hill just outside of Lowell. Kerouac conceived the idea of Dr. Sax from various comic books that were popular when he was a child.
"Dr. Sax" is memorable largely for the picture it draws of Kerouac's childhood and of Lowell. (Kerouac is named Jack Duluoz or "Ti Jean" in the book.) It gives good portraits of Kerouac's mother and father and of the family's many moves among the poorer neighborhoods of the town and of Kerouac's older sister and ill-fated brother Gerard who died when he was ten. Kerouac, Ti Jean is portrayed as a sensitive, imaginative and athletic child. The book offers portraints of Kerouac playing baseball and marbles, going to church, engaging in pranks and fights with his childhood friends and enemies, watching movies and reading books, experiencing the first flush of sexuality and learning to masturbate, and learning of death, in the person of Gerard and several others. The book also shows a great deal of Lowell and its environs, especially of a large flood that destroyed much of the city's downtown in 1936.
The story of young Ti Jean and of Lowell is punctuated by comic-book like tales of Dr. Sax. Dr. Sax also appears as a shadowy figure commenting upon and observing the life of young Kerouac and his family and friends. There is something sinister about Sax throughout most of the book. He is partly drawn from William Burroughs, as he is shown travelling through South and Central America for various "powders". In the lengthy final chapter of the book, Ti Jean accompanies Dr. Sax in a bizzare chapter in which Sax purports to ward off the forces of evil that threaten Lowell. The story gets a sharp wizard-of-Oz-like twist at the end.
With the comic characters and the surprise ending, there is a great deal of mad humor in Dr. Sax, but the tone still is predominantly one of melancholy and reflection. In one particularly good scene, Kerouac's dying uncle prophetically tells him: "my child poor Ti Jean, do you know my dear that you are destined to be a man of big sadness and talent-- it'll never to live or die, you'll suffer like others -- more" The Dr. Sax figure, similarly, seems to show the price Kerouac paid for becoming a writer. The book suggests -- with its subtitle "Faust Part Three" that Kerouac's writing was part of a Faustian bargain with Dr. Sax in which Kerouac paid for his literary imagination with a sad and tormented life.
Dr. Sax was Kerouac's favorite among his own novels, and many readers would among his work regard it as his best or second-best after "On the Road." (Other works have their own partisans as well.) This book will interest readers who want to see a lesser-known side of Kerouac. The book is written in a variety of styles. It is erratic and not easy reading. Those who are interested in Kerouac's portrayals of his life in Lowell might also enjoy "Maggie Cassidy" and Kerouac's first and underappreciated book, "The Town and the City".