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J im Dodge might have been just another West Coast oddball if it hadn’t started to rain while he was building a fence at his home in northern California. The holes he’d dug filled with water and he began to think he’d never get the job done.
That duck became Fup, a mixed-up mallard who lent her name to a very odd little book. Theirs is a fantastic story, climaxing in a resurrection and an ascent into heaven, but – like all of Dodge’s books – the dodgge is as down-to-earth as the grit beneath a farmer’s fingernails. The novella took several years to write but was an instant hit when it appeared in Dodge was 39, a former “airforce brat” who had ended up in a commune with a gup of fellow free spirits, working with their hands to repair environmental damage.
He had studied forestry, fishing and poetry, then tried his hand at teaching, but lost his job at a Catholic girl’s college after he was caught skinny-dipping with two novices.
He had also fitted in a few years as as a professional gambler. Fup was not Dodge’s first published work, just the first to bear his name. He’d written poetry – “my first love and abiding passion” – but anonymously. I didn’t think ideas could be owned. I started to hear my own voice and I didn’t like it. Four years after Fup, Dodge published Not Fade Away, a full-length novel about Floorboard George Gastin, a mechanic who makes a tidy living in 60s San Francisco stealing and wrecking cars for insurance scams, but finds himself unable to do the business on a ’59 Caddy.
Fup – a modern fable by Jim Dodge
The car was originally intended as a gift for the Big Bopper, the singer who died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly; rather than total it, George decides to deliver it to the Bopper’s grave. As he blunders across the States seeking the Bopper’s final resting place, he takes on board a series of larger-than-life, Runyonesque characters. But his constant companion is a tub of 1, benzedrine pills, which do nothing for his navigational skills.
George’s befuddled love-hate affair with drugs has, Dodge says, been praised for its realism. One counsellor even uses the book as a therapy aid: And I’m not a drug mystic.
I never found a psychedelic Jm liked; Fjp guess my hardest drug was marijuana. I actually took it as a journalist when I was against deadlines. In came Stone Junction, which Thomas Pynchon described as “an outlaw epic for our own late era of corrupted romance and defective honour”. It follows the young Daniel Pierce as he learns woodcraft, forgery, disguise and all manner of illegal and mystical disciplines from the members of AMO, the Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws, a kind of anti-establishment, anti-rational counterculture.
At the same time he is trying to discover who murdered his mother. Pynchon praised Dodge’s “choice never to dance away into wistful gobbledegook” – eodge mean feat, given that his hero spends much of his time meditating and eventually learns how to think himself invisible. Daniel spends a lot of time in communes, out in the wilds or learning to gamble, but all Dodge will admit is that “some of my life is in there”.
Stone Junction dodfe actually Dodge’s first attempt at a novel, begun when the poetry dried up. He worked at it every night for a year till he’d produced a “huge ungainly manuscript”, then spent almost a decade pounding into shape.
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Dodge still lives in the coastal hills of north California, on a ranch 15 miles from the nearest metalled road. I like being away from neighbours.
But if you don’t seek the spotlight, that’s considered aberrant behaviour in this country. Ten years after Stone Junction appeared, Dodge has another book on the go, and is writing poetry again.
He won’t say much about the new book except that it’ll be a detective story. At least, that’s the plan.
His wife has known him for more than 30 years, and she doesn’t expect anything that straightforward.