21 February 2013

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction (1990; repr. 2000)

Jim Dodge lives in California, and there is a great deal of what might be called California dreaming here, a large element of fantasy or wish-fulfillment, such as the fourteen-year-old protagonist Daniel Pearse getting a blow job from a young woman who just happens to stray into his bedroom, or Daniel – in what could well be be a nod toward Marcel Aimé's short story Le Passe-muraille (The Man Who Walked through Walls) – developing the art of invisibility: it seems fitting that this should be in the state that has so many celluloid and cyberworld associations.

Stone Junction is Dodge's third and latest novel so far, and comes with an Introduction by Thomas Pynchon, who calls it an 'outlaw epic' for modern times, stressing that 'outlaw' here should be understood positively: it's more or less equal to 'outsider'. But these aren't passive outsiders, they resist conformity, and often very vehemently so.

The narrator's outlaws (almost all) belong to an organization called AMO, or Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws, or Alchemists, Magicians and Outlaws, no one's too sure as nothing's written down. Pynchon sees them as following in the tradition of such people as John Dillinger, Rob Roy, or Jesse James, but – perhaps surprisingly – doesn't mention Robin Hood. It is very easy to tell where the narrator's sympathies lie, and overwhelmingly the outlaws come across as likeable characters as opposed to the violent, repressive defenders of the status quo. The narrator, by dwelling on the activities of the outlaws – as in, for instance, the emphasis on the depth and breadth of self-education against state-approved education – firmly maintains an oppositional stance against 'straight' society: there's more than a touch of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest here.

Essentially, this is a novel of action with a huge number of characters, and it is hardly surprising – particularly bearing in mind the far-fetched nature of many of these actions – that much of this takes place on a cartoon level. But then, a great deal of this is very funny. Most of the action involves the young Daniel, and traces his coming of age when, for example, he gets to learn about dope growing, safe breaking, gambling, eventually becoming invisible and stealing the world's biggest Diamond (which is capitalized because it's freighted with symbolism).

This is a 500-page book with huge ambitions and which inevitably loses its way sometimes, and I can understand that it would infuriate some readers because it expects them to follow it to places many wouldn't want to go near, but for its sheer love of people, language, and – perhaps especially – its hatred of conformity, this exhausting book is well worth the effort.

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