Jan 22, 2012

Favourite Monkey #1:

  • wherein the shelf monkey commences upon a historic, nay, histrionic, nay yet again, monumental attempt to re-read and internetally review those most-beloved works of fiction that have nestled firmly within his psyche, an effort spanning the entirety of his entirely too-short life thus far.
  • His favourite books, in other words. Good god but this primate is tremendously verbose for someone who sleeps in a tree.
Today's exciting episode: 

Stone Junction 
by Jim Dodge
Plot synopsis (from Goodreads):
Stone Junction is a novel about Daniel Pearse, an orphaned child who is taken under the wings of the AMO - Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws. An assortment of sages sharpen Daniel's wide-eyed outlook until he has the concentration of a card shark Zen master, via apprenticeships in meditation, safecracking, poker, and the art of walking through walls. This unconventional education sets Daniel on the trail of a strange, six-pound diamond sphere, held by the U.S. government in a New Mexico vault, rumored to be the Philosopher's Stone or the Holy Grail. Shadowing the slippery netherworlds of role-playing games like Magic or Dungeons & Dragons, Daniel's quest to retrieve the magic stone and discover who killed his mother becomes a bravura act of storytelling, both a free-spirited adventure and a parable about the powers within us all.
When did the shelf monkey first read this? I recall purchasing Stone Junction from the University of Winnipeg bookstore, from a sales table. I was undoubtedly in my twenties. Picked it on a whim, the cover and copy intrigued me.

What were the first impressions? Stone Junction grabbed me like few books ever have. For years I considered it my favourite novel of all time.

How many times has the shelf monkey read this? This, I believe, is my fourth reading.

Has it withstood the perils of time and maturity? Oh, yes, and then some.

New thoughts: Thomas Pynchon calls Stone Junction "a celebration of everything that matters." Forgetting for a moment that a blurb from Pynchon is akin to the Pope's personal blessing for many people, it's a fine summation of Stone Junction's many, many endearing qualities. Jim Dodge has penned a rollicking joyride of a story down the backroads and dark alleys of a mythical American landscape that cannot possibly exist, yet should. I'm not a conspiracy nut by any means, but the idea of a semi-legendary affiliation of outlaws and magicians that subtly weaves itself through history is so tempting, it's no wonder one edition begins with a warning: "This book is a work of fiction. FICTION. Believe otherwise at your own peril."

When I first read Dodge's magnum opus — and it is just that; Dodge has only written three books, none since SJ, and I hereby plead with Mr. Dodge to pick up the pen again — I was still a young lad, somewhat well-read but on the whole ignorant. Since that initial reading I have become more familiar and conversant with the historical peers to Dodge's free-wheeling prose and plot style. Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Richard Brautigan; writers of serio-comic fiction who quirkily explore philosophical themes with narratives that careen, bounce, and fly according to the meta-manic whims of the creator. Every character is provided a history, even the minor ones, and they all have a story to tell in flamboyant language that reads wonderfully and would be impossible to maintain in real life. Some people find these authors' refusal to use one word when ten will do tiresome; I personally love a lengthy sentence, and Dodge is lodged firmly within that genre, although his storytelling a touch more linear.

"Outlaws only do wrong when they feel it's right: criminals only feel right when they're doing wrong." That's a primary theme here; this is an excursion to the land of people on the fringes, people who cannot abide rules and regulations, but mean no harm. People named Longshot, and Volta, and Smiling Jack, Bad Bobby, Red Freddie, and Bridget Bardo. It's an adventurous bildungsroman of Daniel Pearce's birth, life, and eventual *removed for spoiler purposes*. It's a search for meaning, a quest for what the heart truly wants. And when Daniel learns to vanish, it becomes something even greater, pushing into magical realism.

Look, I can't pretend to fully understand what happens to Daniel. All I really know is that I loved the ride. Stone Junction is one of those rare novels that I don't want to end; I want to continue on in my relationships with Dolly, and Aunt Charmaine, and Wild Bill, and Shamus. My heart broke at Daniel's ultimate end, but the finale is the right one. It is ultimately unfair to me that Dodge's world does not exist, as I cannot imagine it wouldn't improve our world tremendously.

Verdict: still a favourite monkey

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