Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Curation #45 from my Kerouac bookshelf: Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac

Item #45 in my Kerouac bookshelf curation project is this Grove Weidenfeld (a division of Grove Press, Inc.) copy of Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac (published in 1959, written in 1952 about 1930-36 Lowell, Massachusetts). It's a 1987 edition, 5th printing, and is in okay shape. I don't remember the provenance. The title page shows a subtitle: Faust Part Three.

Among Kerouacophiles I've met, Dr. Sax ranks right up there as one of Jack's best novels. It's both a memoir of his youth in Lowell, MA, and a fantasy novel. The back cover sums up the novel nicely:
In this haunting novel of intensely felt adolescence, Jack Kerouac tells the story of Jack Duluoz, a French-Canadian boy growing up, as Kerouac himself did, in the dingy factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dr. Sax, with his flowing cape, slouch hat, and insinuating leer, is chief among the many ghosts and demons that populate Jack's fantasy world. Deftly mingling memory and dream, Kerouac captures the accents and texture of his boyhood in Lowell as he relates Jack's adventures with this cryptic, apocalyptic hipster phantom.
I love the opening lines:
THE OTHER NIGHT I had a dream that I was sitting on the sidewalk on Moody Street, Pawtucketville, Lowell, Mass., with a pencil and paper in my hand saying to myself "Describe the wrinkly tar of this sidewalk, also the iron pickets of Textile Institute. or the doorway where Lousy and you and G.J.'s always sitting and dont [sic] stop to think of words when you do stop, just stop to think of the picture better--and let your mind off yourself in this work." (p. 3)
Can't you just picture that "wrinkly tar" sidewalk? Jack is describing his writing technique right from the outset (e.g., "Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind" from Belief & Technique for Modern Prose; see also Essentials of Spontaneous Prose). As with all of Jack's novels, the prose is beautiful and at times playfully cryptic ("it's Sanurnday Sun Night"; "Frezels! Grawms! Wake to the test in your frails...."), and in this novel it's especially challenging (for me, at least) because of the fantasy elements.

Dr. Sax is the source of the famous story from Jack's youth about walking across the Moody Street Bridge with his mother one night and seeing a man carrying a watermelon drop dead (Book Four in Dr. Sax is titled, "The Night the Man with the Watermelon Died"; see p. 127).

There's a lot to say about Dr. Sax, but it's pretty much been said before so I'll leave that to the true Kerouac scholars. Suffice to say that Dr. Sax is Jack Kerouac at the height of his writing powers despite what the NY Times said about it. And that ain't no Harvard lie.

Below is a picture of Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf showing the placement of this book (26th item from the left) on the day I started curating my collection. Next up: Beat Generation: An Original Play by Jack Kerouac.

Shelf #1 of my Kerouac bookshelf

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