Monday, April 05, 2021

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction (1990)

This book has a Pynchon blurb, and was represented to me as the kind of thing I'd like, maybe, so I read it.  It's about a boy named Daniel Pearse, who grows up with his mother Annalee living a kind of itinerant lifestyle and becoming involved with a group called AMO--Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws--a kind of secret society devoted to...well, not wholly clear what, beyond generally being those things, and helping one another out when necessary.  When Annalee is killed in an apparent accident, Daniel is more or less raised by this group, bouncing around from idiosyncratic teacher to idiosyncratic teacher, where he learns about meditation, drugs, gambling, safecracking, disguises...actually, I guess that's mostly it.  Did he ever learn, like, arithmetic?  Unclear.  At any rate, the group has a plan to steal a huge diamond from a heavily-guarded government facility, and he is chosen to do be the lead guy there.  And I won't spoil what happens next, I guess.

I was really enjoying this at first.  It does get a little overly cute in places--straining just a bit too hard for zaniness, in that Pynchonesque way--but I was willing to go along with it.  Why not?  And, it's weird how your opinion of a book can change so dramatically, innit?

See, the thing is, you reach a certain point and you realize, huh.  None of these lengthy episodes that made up the bulk of the book actually seem to have much bearing on anything that's happening.  Now, that's not necessarily a fatal sin; picaresque novels obviously have a long history.  But I feel that that's not really a defense here.  Part of the pleasure of reading these lies in the sense that they're going to pay off in some way, and then they...don't.  And this build-up and lack of payoff is apparent elsewhere too: this diamond is HELLA guarded, it's insanely impossible to get, this is going to be the heist of the century.  Actually, never mind, he just waltzes in and takes it, NBD.  There's a sadistic, hyper-competent assassin on our heroes' trail?  Oh, never mind, he's very quickly killed off without ever doing much of anything, really.  Dodge is a good writer; individual scenes work in themselves...but boy, when it comes to larger structural issues, this thing really falls apart.

None of that prepared me, however, for how rushed and unsatisfying the ending is, and in retrospect, it kind of ruins the whole book.  It seems obvious that the whole thing was very weed-inspired, and I seriously found it enraging.  I don't know why I'm avoiding spoiling it, really, because seriously, I shouted profanity at no one as I was finishing it.  Dodge is a talented guy, no question, but I finished the book feeling like I'd just been jerked around; like I'd completely wasted my time.  So in the end, while the novel does have merit, I ended up kind of hating it and can't recommend it to anyone.


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