Tuesday, 28 June 2016
Fup by Jim Dodge Review
Jake Santee has discovered the secret to immortality: a home-made whiskey called Ol’ Death Whisper. Sup this and you’ll live forever! When his daughter unexpectedly dies, 99 year-old Jake takes in his grandson Tiny, who of course grows up to be a giant! The two live happily on the farm until they make an enemy: the wild pig Lockjaw. While hunting Lockjaw one day, Tiny finds an abandoned baby duck and takes her in. Her name? Fup.
Jim Dodge’s novella is an absolutely delightful read and I’m pleased to say it holds up nearly 15 years after I first read it. Dodge’s writing is hard to describe but it’s unique and genius - this guy is a master and reading his sentences sets my brain on fire in ways few writers have ever done. This is someone who could describe next to nothing happening and hold you entranced the entire time! I’ve never read a writer like him.
The characters are charming and sharply realised from Grandpaw Jake to quiet Tiny and the irascible Fup. It’s a very short read but Dodge firmly entrenches his characters into your mind. Jake in particular is a charismatic old coot - like the characters in Dodge’s best novel, Stone Junction, he’s a gambler and a storyteller with a potty mouth (the best kind of storyteller). Fup’s name for example - Fup, Duck = Fucked Up. Silly but kinda funny and perfectly in keeping with the character.
If there’s a criticism it’s that the narrative doesn’t go anywhere once Fup is introduced. It’s basically Tiny, Fup and Jake hunting Lockjaw but they don’t do it the whole time and meander around doing cutesy things with Fup like take her to the drive-in or try to teach her to fly.
The fable part of the story is one of the last things to happen. Without spoiling it, I’m not entirely sure what the message is besides something weak like learning to forgive your enemy maybe? I choose to believe it’s got no message at all purely because the surrealism is so wonderful and the fate of our characters too beautiful to be ruined by attempts at understanding it - it just happens and it’s a great ending. Not everything needs a meaning, sometimes the imagery alone is enough.
Fup is a masterfully-written, totally engaging and enormously fun read by one of America’s best kept literary secrets, Jim Dodge. At little over a short story’s length Fup’s a very quick read but it’ll stay with you for years. Highly recommended to everyone who likes their stories humorous and spiked with a lil magical realism!