Sunday, 3 April 2011

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge

A forward by Thomas Pynchon would usually be enough to put me off a book, but I'm glad I started Stone Junction. Not so glad I finished it, however.

It's about a chap called Daniel Pearse, who grows up in a idealised counterculture with his mother in California. He's then passed between a series of tutors who show him how to meditate, play poker, grow and take drugs, disguise himself and, finally, perform actual proper magic. Then there's a heist which goes....strangely.

I really enjoyed much of the book. It's very earnest, there's a lot of pseudo-mystical balderdash and the lead character's kind of a blank slate. But I did like the folksy American style and the love of rebelliousness. I'm no fan of hippies of course, but there's always something to be said for sticking it to the man. There are also some great passages - a botched plutonium raid, rebuilding a riverboat casino, playing a high stakes lo-ball game. And the writing style won't be to everyone's taste, but it rattled along nicely and was nothing like Pynchon.

But this is a failed novel. From about the halfway point it starts going downhill and gathers momentum until the truly horrible ending. It's hard not to suspect that the writer didn't know where he was going, so he thought big handfuls of drugs would dig him out of a hole. This makes it sound better than it is.

In fact, there is a decent plot going on. There's a big mystery about what happened to Daniel's mother, and two people trying to figure it out and there's even a relatively satisfying answer, but it gets buried under truckloads of bollocks about magic, love, madness and a big diamond. Again, sounds like it could be good. But not good in any way.

It's a real pity because I was loving this at the start, and there are so many interesting avenues I thought it was going to go down. Colourful characters appear and vanish a couple of pages later. One important character from the beginning turns insane, then disappears until the last couple of pages. They never get the riverboat casino back under steam!

My suggestion would be to read the first half, then make up the second half yourself. And you should probably take less drugs than the author.

Now re-reading an excellent history of pre-columbian America and listening to a very interesting book by Tony Blair's ex-chief of staff, looking at his rise to power and the challenges of office through the lessons of Machiavelli.


Bryce said...

Yeah, it was a bit of a wasted opportunity. You say the writing style is earnest, I guess I'd say it was amateurish... The characters were big and bold but I would say they were cartoonish and cliched.

I am all for sticking it to the man, but I need it to be more polished and have more direction than this.

On a similar note I am really struggling to finish White Noise. The writing is putting me in mind of Lunar Park by BEE in that it is really making me angry. Going nowhere, the characters aren't 'real' enough to be believable or strange enough to be fantasy. The world it's set in isn't real. The language they use isn't real. Bah!

Ed said...

I'd like to see BEE reviewed here actually - you read any, Joe? He certainly divides opinion. I finished Imperial Bedrooms recently and although it's got its problems, most of the reviews I read were well wide of the mark. Haven't read Lunar Park.

Joe said...

American Psycho is like a warm blanket taking me back to my schooldays. Hilarious and deeply horrible, and probably in my top ten favourite books.

Now Bateman - there's an outrageous fantasy character who also convinces as a believable person.

I've really enjoyed the rest of his books, up till Lunar Park. Very disappointing and ordinary. Why would you want to be Stephen King when you're Bret Easton Ellis? I'm perfectly happy with the Stephen King we've got already.

I'll hunt out Imperial Bedrooms in the library or look for an audiobook to download. I'm not going to shell out twelve pounds - it looks about a hundred pages long!

McK said...

I'll bring up Imperial Bedrooms next week, one epic Odber shit and you'll have polished it off. The book that is.

Bryce said...

Write a new review already you lazy git.