Fup by Jim Dodge

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Fup by Jim Dodge

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A full five stars and then some for this little book with a big heart and even bigger belly laugh. Fup is a fairy tale for grown ups and with none of that nasty stuff they put in the fairy tales for children. Buy it, borrow it, steal it. Just don't miss it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 121 Date: March 2004
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN: 1841954896

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Granddaddy Jake Santee has, after six and a half decades of riotous living, found the secret of immortality. It is in the distilling and drinking of Ol' Death Whisper, a moonshine recipe given to him by a dying Indian outside a gambling hall in Nevada City. Jake has never settled, he's been married three times, has one daughter he hasn't seen since she was a baby, followed the gold rush, made a fortune, lost it, made another, won some land which suits him well, but has spent most of his life an itinerant gambler, sometimes lucky, sometimes not. But something in that dying Indian's eyes and his promise of immortality held Jake's attention, and he took himself and the recipe back home to his dilapidated ranch. He hasn't moved since:

The whiskey helped him keep still. One hit of Ol' Death Whisper would drive most humans to their knees; two produced a mildy hallucinatory catatonia. His neighbours used it for tractor fuel, blowing stumps, and, diluted by a drop to a pint of water, as a treatment for almost anything that ailed their stock, from scours to lungworm.

No wonder he stays put! Fifteen years into the perfecting of the art of distilling of Ol' Death Whisper and fifteen years into his immortality Grandaddy Jake hears news that his daughter has drowned, leaving a small son, Johnathan Adler Makhurst II, otherwise known as Tiny. After a fight with the fostering agencies and Miss Emma Gadderly, the county social worker, and a run of luck at cards which pays for the lawyers, Jake successfully adopts his grandson. Tiny is well named; like Topsy he just growed and growed and growed. He's 6'5" standing in a hollow. They get along wonderfully well together but Jake and Tiny are like chalk and cheese:

Tiny, fortunately, was as amiable as his Granddaddy was ornery, as placid and benign as the old man was fierce and belligerent. Tiny enjoyed the open, linear purity of checkers. Granddaddy favored games with hole cards, where your strength was in your secrets and you flew into the eye of chaos riding your ghost.

While Granddaddy Jake drinks himself into immortal oblivion, Tiny spends his time fence-building. He builds fences all across the ranch, the straightest, truest, most wonderfully-built fences that there ever were. He builds picket fences, post and rail fences, and wire fences. He has offers to build fences for ranches up and down the country, but Tiny prefers to busy himself with fence-building at home. Fences are his passion. His worst nightmare is Lockjaw, a local wild pig who continually disrupts the order and neatness of his fence-building. Pigs are the natural enemy of fences. Sometimes, it feels as though Lockjaw is his nemesis. One evening, after days and nights of frustrating rain, and no fence building, Tiny finds a baby mallard close to death in one of his sodden fencepost holes. It is clear from mess of earth around the hole that Lockjaw has been there, after the tiny, folorn little thing. Tiny takes the bird home, where it is revived by Granddaddy and a drop or two of Ol' Death Whisper. He calls her Fup. (You get it? Capisce? Fup Duck, FUP DUCK).

Fup is like both of her benefactors: thanks to her voracious appetite, she grows as large for a duck as Tiny is for a man. Fup could eat for her country, and she's not particularly fussy what she eats as long as there's plenty of it. She's also sharp, touchy and temperamental, just like Jake, and is not afraid to make her feelings of disapproval clear by a judicious peck or two. She shows no interest in learning to fly, despite Granddaddy's best efforts to teach her: she is happy accompanying Tiny on his fence- building endeavours and trying to help him sniff out Lockjaw on regular hunting expeditions, and eating at very regular intervals, of course. Together this odd trio rub along tremendously well. Odd they may be, eccentric they may be, but they fit together as a family should.

And if you want to find out if Granddaddy Jake is truly immortal, if Tiny ever does manage to rid himself of Lockjaw and if Fup Duck learns to fly you'll just have to read it. I've said too much already. It won't take you long, for Fup packs it all in to just a hundred or so pages. Oh, do buy it, do. Fup is a very, very funny little book and it will suit everyone: I spat my tea all over the place; my childrenlaughed out loud; my mother said "aww" a lot. What more recommendation could you want? The part where Grandaddy Jake tries to teach Fup to fly and ends up losing the few teeth he has left is hilarious, and the one where financial ruin for our threesome is luckily prevented by the foolishness of a nirvana-seeking hippy left me in stitches. Oh, go on then, have just one more little bit:

The longhair, though visibly shaken after the first swallow, managed to get down six or seven quick more gulps before he collapsed on the front porch and began writhing in such a way that Boss, Tiny's cantankerous and ever-horny Beagle, had tried to come over and hump him... He immediately bolted for the walnut tree in the front yard, went up it in a single, gigantic bound, and spent the next three hours sitting among the bare limbs hunched over like a sick buzzard. The first hour he wept. The second hour he laughed. The third hour he was silent. The fourth hour he pitched forward and fell like a sack of wet grain. He broke both arms. On the way into the hospital, he offered to buy Granddaddy's stock on hand and all future production for $20 a pint in exchange for sole distributorship.

Don't talk to Granddaddy Jake about absinthe! He's been there, seen it, done it, most certainly drunk it, probably orbitted the moon and got a better t-shirt for it to boot. So there. Ohhh, I just want to tell you it all. You'll love the marathon checkers tournament. And the cinema trips. And Johnny Seven Moons, man of few words. But I'm stopping, I'm stopping!

Fup is one of those little fables you could read again and again and again. It's funny, it's sweet, it's joyous. And it's over before you know it, and somehow, with a story like this, that's a good thing, do you know what I mean? Half the fun is in the brevity. Dodge writes in a colloquial and down-to-earth way, packing an awful lot of things into a very few words. Reading Fup you'll find some raunchy, earthy humour, some naughty sarcasm, and an awful lot of wisdom, joy and fun. It's just packed full of life and energy and humour. It's a bit like reading the philosophy of Johnathan Livingstone Seagull mixed up in the style of a beaty writer like Kesey with some vivid pictures from a sharp observer like Steinbeck thrown in, but it's both less and more than those things: it really is just a lovely, short little story-come-parable filled with a bit of magic, a bit of truth and an awful, awful lot of clear-eyed humanity. It's uplifting to read and hilariously, tea-spittingly funny. And I think that's enough, don't you? I shall stop now, or I'll write more than Dodge did, and that wouldn't be a good thing at all. You just read it.

At the very least, as Granddaddy Jake would tell you, It's better'n whacking it.

Oops, did I just say that?

If you're looking for more like this, try our review of Holes by Louis Sachar.

Booklists.jpg Fup by Jim Dodge is in the Top Ten Books To Read In One Sitting.
Buy Fup by Jim Dodge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fup by Jim Dodge at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Fup by Jim Dodge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fup by Jim Dodge at Amazon.com.


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xocitus said:

I think your review exactly what the book deserves. But after I read this book I was left with a question: Why gets Fup in the way when Tiny shoots Lockjaw? There must be a reason, don't you think?

Is it because Fup actually likes Lockjaw and isn't his enemy after all. Is it because we just THINK Lockjaw attacked her, but this isn't what really happened?

Jill replied:

I think it's just all gloriously surreal and doesn't really mean anything at all!