“Dr. Sax” by Jack Kerouac

DrSaxI suspect that this post will probably piss off some hipsters out there, but I have to be honest—I thought this book sucked. In fact, in my mind I jokingly renamed it Dr. Sucks. And the truth is, I like Kerouac, but this book is a flop. I couldn’t finish it, and believe me; I hate not finishing a book. But this book was so dreadful and life is too short that I could not justify wasting any more time reading it.

I found it in a local used book store that was going out of business. All books were severely marked down, so I grabbed a stack. This was one of the ones I bought. I’d never heard of this book before, but hey, it’s Kerouac and for $2, how could I go wrong?

The book is basically Kerouac’s attempt at stream-of-consciousness writing. He weaves together memory and dream fragments in rambling sentences to try to capture how his mind works. I envisioned Jack sitting at a typewriter, wired on amphetamines, and frantically typing out every jagged thought that sped through his brain.

Here is a random paragraph from the book:

I could hear it rise from the rocks in a groaning wush ululating with the water, sprawlsh, sprawlsh, oom, oom, zoooo, all night long the river says zooo, zooo, the stars are fixed on rooftops like ink. Merrimac, dark name, sported dark valleys: my Lowell had the great trees of antiquity in the rocky north waving over lost arrowheads and Indian scalps, the pebbles on the slatecliff beach are full of hidden beads and were stepped on barefoot by Indians. Merrimac comes swooping from a north of eternities, falls pissing over locks, cracks and froths on rocks, bloth, and rolls frawing to the kale, calmed in dewpile stone holes slaty sharp (we dove off, cut our feet, summer afternoon stinky hookies), rocks full of ugly old suckers not fit to eat, and crap from sewage, and dyes, and you swallowed mouthfuls of the chokeful water— By moonlight night I see the Mighty Merrimac foaming in a thousand white horses upon the tragic plains below. Dream: —wooden sidewalk planks of Moody Street Bridge fall out, I hover on beams over rages of white horses in the roaring low, —moaning onward, armies and cavalries of charging Euplantus Eudronicus King Grays loop’d & curly like artists’ work, and with clay souls’ snow curlicue rooster togas in the fore front.

Now, I confess, I understand what Kerouac was trying to do here, and I can appreciate it. Expressing the workings of the subconscious mind is not an easy thing to do. And the truth is, I enjoy stream-of-consciousness writing, if it’s done well, and therein is the issue; it really wasn’t done well. This book in no way compares with the works of James Joyce or Thomas Wolfe. In addition, it seems that the entire book is nothing but the rambling stream-of-consciousness. That’s right—no plot, no narrative, basically, no story. After reading almost 100 pages of streaming memory fragments, I just couldn’t take any more.

As much as I hate to part with books, I will probably put this out the next time I have a yard sale. I’m sure there are hipster-wannabes out there willing to pay $2 for this book and who will pretend to find it deep and inspiring.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to ““Dr. Sax” by Jack Kerouac

  1. Bravo! I did not get away with saying half of what you did in this review when I was in college. Kerouac is no James Joyce! His failed attempt at stream of conscious writing made this book garbage for me. I’m still hung up on Joyce. Gosh, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is still on my top ten. That book is where Joyce birthed a writing style he later more fully developed in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. I should get off this tangent and back to my point. Kerouac’s mind was not so fluid here, and I feel he failed at stream of consciousness, and so I think you should take the book and light it with befitting fluid, Kersene. Haha

  2. John House

    Hey! I found your review, by searching for the lines you quoted and I certainly agree mostly with your view on it, but felt like I could add some information. Kerouac wrote Doctor Sax in pencil (at least I am pretty sure that I read that in an interview) and by that it belongs to his section of “Holy Books”. I just wanted to add that, because by that this novel wasn’t meant to be a try on mastering stream of conscious writing, but more meant to be poetic. Have you listened to Johnny Depp reading parts of it? It really has a certain melodie and vibe that comes with it. I really do agree with you, it is hard to read it through (well, mainly because I’m German but I did great with his other works in English), but I think that this novel had a great poetic sound to me. But maybe that just happened because I did not understand every single word :/ Anyways thanks for the quote and for letting me thing about that novel a second time, I might should change my way of reading…

    • Hi John. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this thoughtful comment. I have not heard Johnny Depp read this, but now I am intrigued and will certainly look for it online. I appreciate that Kerouac was trying to break out of his literary confines and explore new techniques of writing. I’ll certainly keep an open mind when I listen to Depp.

      Cheers!

  3. Well this one wouldn’t be for me either. I like some stream of consciousness books, but I had trouble following that passage!

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