Monthly Archives: March 2013

Year of Kerouac: Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy

The Year Of Kerouac, my year-long project of re-reading (or in some cases, reading for the first time) the works of Jack Kerouac, continues. I’m reading them not in the order of when they were written (the years on the left below) but rather in order of the subject matter most of them cover, Kerouac’s own life (the years to the right below). You can read my review of the first book at the link below…

Visions of Gerard             1956       1922–1926
Doctor Sax          1952       1930–1936
Maggie Cassidy 1953       1938–1939
·         Vanity of Duluoz               1968       1935–1946
Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings    1936–1943           Various
The Town and the City   1946–1949           1935–1946
On The Road      1948–1956           1946–1950
Visions of Cody 1951–1952           1946–1952
The Subterraneans         1953       1953
·         Mexico City Blues (1955; published 1959)
Tristessa              1955–1956           1955–1956
The Dharma Bums           1957       1955–1956
·         The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1956; published 1960) 
Desolation Angels            1956–1957
Book of Dreams   1960    1952-1960
·        Lonesome Traveler, short story collection (1960)
Big Sur (novel)   1961       1960
Satori in Paris     1965       1965
·         Pic, novella (1951 & 1969; published 1971)

All caught up now? Good! On to the reviews of the next two…

Doctor Sax is a weirdly wonderful book, one of the most unusual, and best, of all of Kerouac’s works. On one level, it’s an account of boyhood daydreams, and a particular historical event (a great flood in his hometown). In this way, it’s a natural continuation of the haunted childhood depicted in Visions of Gerard. On another, it mixes in himself as the present-day narrator, along with dreams from his contemporary life. And on a third, it’s a mythic struggle between the mysterious Dr. Sax and a Great Serpent that clearly exists in the realm of fantasy and fable. Along with the subject matter, the narrative too shifts back and forth between straightforward narrative, and more fantastical sequences full of neologisms and nonsense words. It certainly shows the influence of William S. Burroughs, with whom he was staying when he wrote much of it. It’s a joy to read, and definitely shows Kerouac at his most creative and most fictional, in fact creating something very like the “metafiction” that became popular in the 90s and 00s.

Maggie Cassidy is in a sense the most readable of the three books that I’ve covered so far, in that it is an extremely straightforward narrative and also the most grammatically “proper” of the three. Despite that (or maybe because of that) it’s the one I’ve liked least. It may be that the writing is too prosaic for my taste, or it may be that a lot of the subject matter is about sports and adolescent boyhood, two subjects I don’t much care for. The main subject of the narrative, the blossoming of his first love with the title character, also highlights one of Kerouac’s least admirable points- his co-mingled mythologized idealization of the feminine with his fear and misogyny toward the same. For all that, there are some really touching passages, particularly involving his relationship with his father, and the by the end of the book I appreciated it as a bridge between Lowell and the boyhood world of Dr. Sax and Visions of Gerard, and the New York and restless wandering of the adult Kerouac.

(As a final note, I read it as an e-book, so I didn’t get the 50s pulp-cover in the picture, but that is pretty damn spectacular.)