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Stone Junction (1990)

by Jim Dodge

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5771238,957 (3.88)30
Annalee Pearce is a pregnant 16-year-old who has been placed in a corrective centre run by nuns for refusing to co-operate with authorities. Once in there, she soon rebels, breaks a sister's jaw with a "roundhouse right" and, when her son Daniel is born, she steals away into the rain.

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review of
Jim Dodge's Stone Junction
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 30, 2017

[This review is truncated by a word limit. For the full review, go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/605453-stone-junction-dodge ]

I'm not familiar w/ the author. I probably got this b/c the front cover looks vaguely science-fiction w/ a 'futuristic' black dome w/ green lights & a smoke stack that looks like it might be more at home on a large sea-faring boat than in the desert where it is in the image & w/ a foregrounded black-gloved hand that's partially on fire. I don't recall noticing the ad blurb on the back from one of my favorite authors, Thomas Pynchon:

""Here is American storytelling as tall as it is broadly and deeply felt, exuberant with outlaw humor and honest magic. Reading Stone Junction is like being at a nonstop party in celebration of everything that matters.""

As much as I love Pynchon's writing, I admit that that capsule review alone wdn't've been enuf to hook me if I weren't so easily hooked anyway. This traces the life of a character who goes thru the usual sensationalist plot devices involving explosions, drugs, robbery, gambling, & call girls - all those things that a public in search of cheap thrills seems to love. At least one character is almost straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson tale of drug abuse. All that didn't necessarily bode well for me - including the sensationalist dramatic beginning:

""Sit down, slut," Sister Bernadette screamed, slamming the desk top with her open hands as she jumped to her feet. "I said sit down!"

"Annalee, just under sex feet tall and a little over 130 pounds, broke Sister Bernadette's jaw with her first punch, a roundhouse right with every bit of herself behind it." - p 4

A friend of mine who was left-handed went to Catholic school & every time he used his left hand & a nun saw it the nun wd hit that hand w/ a ruler. Apparently, one of the doctrines of the church was that the left hand is the 'devil's hand'. Now, to me, that's so obviously stupid it's ridiculous - but how many children suffered b/c of it?! Keeping that story in mind & other tales of sadistic nuns I'm not likely to get upset by the image of a nun being punched. NUNtheless, to some readers this might be a chain-puller.

One of my initial criticisms of Stone Junction was the fantastic improbability of much of it. I made a similar observation in my recent review of Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather:

"What happened when I started reading this? I was immediately sucked into the writing, it was thrilling, it's a thriller of sorts. I could identify with the characters, the lunatic fringe obsessed w/ studying tornadoes. Am I a storm chaser? Nope. Am I a meteorologist? Nope. Am I a hacker? Nope. So it really just plays into an aspect of my fantasy life. I am, however, an 'outsider', a person barely tolerated by a society of robopaths. & it's from that highly experienced position that I started questioning the narrative POV of Heavy Weather: Is this something written by someone who knows how to write a thriller but who doesn't necessarily come from the social milieu that his heros are located in?" - https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/604975-heavy-whether

My point is that it's all well & good to write a novel where all these exciting things happen, wham, bam, thank you spam, but I don't prefer wallowing in fantasies in the long run, I prefer actual real life activities wch don't usually involve the kind of sensationalism that bks like this represent. E.G.: Annalee goes out hitch-hiking w/ her very new baby & immediately gets picked up by an exceptionally good ride:

"As good-humored as his name implied, Smiling Jack was in his late thirties. He had a faded IWW button on his Stetson's band and a pair of rolling dice on his belt buckle. Annalee liked him immediately." - p 6

Yep, I'd say being picked up by someone showing signs of the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World union, is pretty damned lucky. Then again, it's not impossible.

"Like most teachers, Annalee learned with her student. Each New Year's Eve they chose a subject to study together. One year it was rocks. One year, birds of prey. The year devoted to meteorology was the most fun. Each night they put their sealed forecasts for the next day's weather into a jar, opening them after dinner on the following day as if they were fortune cookies. They plotted their relative accuracy and the day's weather data on a wall chart that had become a mural by winter solstice. On New Year's Eve, a few minutes before midnight, they ceremoniously rolled the mural up, tied it with a sky-blue ribbon, and stored it like a precious scroll in a fishing-rod case." - p 18

Now, I'm not against home-schooling but I'm not for it either. Home schooling can be an honest attempt to break free from indoctrination or an attempt to make the indoctrination airtight. When I went to school, if we start w/ kindergarden that wd be 1958 to 1971, it was public school all the way - I never heard of private schools or home-schooling. There was Catholic School, maybe the Quakers had a Friends School, I don't know. I don't think there was a plethora of choices, kids just went to the nearest public school & that was that. I hated school but in my experience of it it wasn't so bad.

If there had been a school for 'exceptionally bright or talented' students my parents wdn't've wanted me to go there anyway - esp if it meant spending money. I certainly wdn't've wanted to be schooled by my parents. My dad was never home, I only recall seeing him a few times before my parents got divorced, & my mom was ignorant & brainwashed.

These days, schools have changed so much. I don't know anyone who sends their kids to public schools, as in the neighborhood school. Everybody sends their kids to more specialized schools, schools w/ particular philosophies, places where the arts are emphasized, or the environment. Parents & kids together can pick a place that appeals to them. It seems like an improvement to me. One friend of mine who taught at a local school for the arts put together a music ensemble that was so good that being part of it wd be an honor indeed. The public schooling I got was boring & mediocre. The current extent of my knowledge is based on my own research conducted outside of school. If a person's desire to be educated is self-motivated then they're much more likely to accomplish something important, IMO. Then again, there's the usual situation of privilege: when yr parents actually support you w/ deep pockets it goes a long way.

I only have one friend whose child has been partially home-schooled. I don't know how successful the home-schooling's been but I'm sure it's been subject to the erratic difficulties of the parent's life. My present impression is that the main people currently in favor of home-schooling are those who object to the separation of church & state. As such, these are people who want their children to be thoroughly indoctrinated in whatever their religious beliefs are. I suppose one can say 'That's their right' fairly enuf but I don't think any schooling is satisfactorily educational if its myopic. Then again, I'm an atheist, the thought of a child under my tutelage being bombarded w/ religious fantasy horrifies me. Parents like Annalee in Stone Junction wd be rare indeed. Parents like those that Betsy DeVos represents seem much more common.

One thing's for sure, if DeVos gets her way & students are allowed to bring guns to school I'd strongly advise parents to keep their kids away from those schools. DeVos justifies this by fear of bears but somehow I reckon that more humans have killed their fellow humans than bears ever will. For a reading of mine that's partially about DeVos check out "Cosmic Grunt / Betsy DeVos" ( https://vimeo.com/203362094 ).

Annalee & her son, Daniel, have to flee from their no-longer-safe-house along w/ the person that the law is really after, Shamus. Thanks to one of the more unlikely tropes of the novel, they are instantly aided by a network that Shamus & Smiling Jack, etc, are associated w/:

"A thin, hawk-faced man was waiting for them at the landing strip near the Great Salt Lake with new driver's licenses for Shamus and Annalee (now James and Maybelline Wyatt), credit cards in the same name, four thousand dollars in cash, and a '71 Buick registered to Mrs. Wyatt. He told them to drive to Dubuque, Iowa, and make a phone call to the number he provided." - p 27

The reason for the heat?

"When Shamus slithered through the hole he'd cut in the cyclone fence, a guard who wasn't supposed to be there called halt, but Shamus clubbed him with his flashlight just as the guard pulled his gun. It went off harmlessly, but the shot brought security to full alarm." - p 27

""If I didn't feel for sure that that guard off smoking a joint was an accident, a random twist, I'd have to believe Volta would have found a way to make sure I didn't pull it off." - p 38

So the guard was where Shamus wasn't expecting him to be b/c he'd sneaked off to smoke a joint. I've been critiquing the novel in terms of its improbabilities, not b/c I'm such a diehard 'realist' or against fiction but more b/c I am interested in the way underground networks might work in real life, the less sensational ways that people might bond & assist each other based on much more subtle shared intellectual interests, e.g..

As for a guard guarding a place where uranium cd be stolen getting stoned, some might say that's really ridiculous. To the contrary, I had a friend who was in the US Army whose job was guarding nuclear missiles as they came off a conveyor belt in South Korea. My friend loved being in the military in S. Korea b/c he & his friends had a local houseboy who kept their place clean & probably cooked for them & it was a very easy life. He told me that they got stoned all the time. He also told me it wasn't too unusual for the conveyor belt workers to be so incompetent that the nuclear missiles might fall off the belt from time-to-time. Apparently, it took more than that for them to explode but, still, wd you want stoned soldiers guarding nuclear missiles?! I wdn't.

Anyway, Shamus's fortune turns as he takes a hostage to drive him out who wants to escape too.

"Finding a hostage, however obtuse, wasn't the end of Shamus's luck, for the old man who drove him through the front gate with a gun at his head was Gerhard von Trakl, Father of Fission and the ranking nuclear scientist in America. Shamus intended to keep Trakl only until they reached the getaway car, the first of three switches he'd already set up.

"But to Shamus's wild surprise, von Trakl begged to go along. He told Shamus that he was a virtual prisoner of the U.S. government and was no longer interested in the work they wanted done." - p 27

Making matters even more exceptionally lucky, Shamus just happens to be in the right place at the right time to be rescued from roadblocks.

""Ain't none of my business, friend, but less'n my scanner done fucked all up, they'll have a roadblock at the end of the valley 'fore you can fart the first bar o' 'Dixie.' Be my suggestion to ride with ol' Silas Goldean here, seeing as how me and most of the local law grew up together and get on fine, and they know I have a fondness for going over to the res'vor this time of night and soaking a doughball for them catfish. Got a good place for you to ride, too."" - p 28

Right, sorry, it's possible but I have way too little faith in humanity to believe it's even remotely likely. I'm sure that many or most of my so-called friends wd turn me in immediately, people are venal. Big time.

At the core of the organization that unites & helps our heros is a group called "AMO". It's this type of group, w/ its incredible genius, imagination, skill, & flexibility that's very appealing at the same time that it's very unlikely. Even the Cosa Nostra, wch seems to be strongly united around greed, ends up having internecine bloodbaths. Anarchists are often mocked for not being able to agree w/ each other. In my opinion, what makes anarchists effective is our ability to act independent of each other & to make temporary alliances not reliant on stable hierarchies. Neoists may be even more extreme than anarchists w/ some neoists clearly pursuing personal power agendas while others do our best to undermine them.

""But whatever the true derivation of its name, AMO is a secret society—though more on the order of an open secret, in fact. Basically, AMO is a historical alliance of the mildly felonious, misfits, anarchists, shamans, earth mystics, gypsies, magicians, mad scientists, dreamers, and other socially marginal souls. I'm told it was originally organized to resist the pernicious influences of monotheism, especially Christianity, which attacked alchemy as pagan and drove it underground.["]" - p 30

Count me in. I'm criminally sane. Of course, I'm reminded of Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea's Illuminatus Trilogy (1975), written before this Dodge bk (1990) & Pynchon's Against the Day (2006 - although many of his early works wd also qualify such as The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)). Back to Annalee:

"Soon she was a singer and lead kazoo in a perpetually ripped aggregation known as the Random Canyon Raiders, whose repertoire included traditional, if obscure, favorites, as well as spontaneous and raucously pornographic sociopolitical polemics. The Random Canyon Raiders were devoted to high times and low art, and Annalee rediscovered a social life. She began to cut loose." - p 47

That wd've been in 1979 in the novel's chronology (maybe?). I think of the Holy Modal Rounders & the Fugs starting in the decade before. In my own life, I think of B.O.M.B (Baltimore Oblivion Marching Band), from 1979, who were a guerrilla action performance group &, hence, more theatrical than musical.

"The first bite left flesh hanging from the roof of Daniel's mouth. He sucked air to cool it.

""Spicy, huh?" Mott said, shoveling another spoonful.

""Yaaa," Daniel gasped.

""You bet. Secret's in the chiles. I grow my own, out o' my own stock—been perfecting it for ten years now. You mighta noticed that little hothouse out in back of the barn? That's all chiles. And I go in there every chance I get and insult 'em. Call 'em stupid-ass, low-down, dipshit heaps of worthlessness. I pinch 'em, piss on 'em, slice off a branch here and there. Water 'em just enough to keep 'em alive. No water—that's what makes 'em hot, but the abuse is what makes 'em mean."

"Daniel, popping his second can of beer, was still unable to speak, but he nodded in understanding.

"Mott shoveled down more chili, sweat coursing off his forehead. "This is venison chili. Where's the beef? Hey; Fuck the beef. And fuck all them fancy chili cookoff winner recipes. This stuff is deer meat chiles, spring water, little bit of wild pig blood, and three tablespoons of gunpowder. Sometimes I throw in a handful of them psilocybin mushrooms if there's any around, though personally I think they weaken it."" - p 102

That might seem extravagantly exaggerated &, yeah, I'm sure it's meant to be, but, HEY!, I had a roommate who was in a "Weird Food Club" & they tried to come up w/ the hottest hot sauce they cd. He synthesized something & I'm sure he gave them a run for their money. Another friend of mine met a guy in a rural area outside of Baltimore who sd he fed his dog gunpowder "to make it mean" & while he cd've been lying such behavior doesn't seem out of character w/ people I've met.

"They arrived back at the barn shortly after dark, taking a different route: cocaine, vodka, demerol, and the last few miles, a few Dexamyl spansules." - p 108

Outrageous drug intake is obviously something that's been glorified in a generally macho way as part of the rock'n'roll lifestyle &/or by the Yippies. Live fast, die young. I prefer live as fast as you can to still enable you to die old (or just "Live fast, die old"). I found an article online at openculture.com about the afore-mentioned Hunter S. Thompson entitled "Hunter S. Thompson's Harrowing Chemical-Filled Daily Routine":

"7:05 Woody Creeek Tavern for lunch—Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home,a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jiggers of Chivas.)

"9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously

"10:00 drops acid

"11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass

"11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.

"12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write

"12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigaretes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies."


"HST outlines his ideal breakfast. It consists of "four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or Eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert.""

Alas, Thompson eventually killed himself - but it might not've had to do w/ the above intake. There're probably some people who've tried to follow Thompson's example just like there've definitely been people who tried to follow William S. Burroughs's example. Bad idea, folks, not everyone's the heir to an adding machine company fortune, not everyone had Thompson's unique stamina.

"After that first obliterating trip with Mott, Daniel kept his drug intake down. he declined so often that Mott finally told him, "Tell me when you want something," and quit offering." - p 108

That wd be me. I've been accused of not being "hard-core" by a woman who cdn't function w/o smoking pot all day b/c I only took one toke. Sorry (NOT), but I have self-control - something I'd encourage cultivating more than pot in yr grow rm.

Daniel becomes apprenticed to a gambler.

"Daniel learned, if only theoretically, how to play position and manage money, when to raise, call, or fold, how to quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of other players, the best times to bluff, how to calculate pot odds, how to spot tells, and cheaters, and marks." - p 139

I've, 'inevitably', been around gambling & gamblers most of my life but I cd never care enuf about gambling to ever be good at it. I will say, tho, that a real card sharp is a wonder to behold. I knew one once, I think his name might've been Leroy, & he was fast. Watching him shuffle cards in mid-air & all the rest was amazing. He was obviously seriously invested in his trade.

"Occasionally he wanted a woman, and most often she was a five-hundred dollar call girl. Daniel liked call girls. They were adventurous, usually independent, often beautiful, took pride in their erotic charms and understanding, and there were no complications." - p 143

No "complications"? Here's where the author's idealized fantasy is a bit too far-fetched for me.

[This review is cut off here by a word limit. For the full review, go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/605453-stone-junction-dodge ] ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
didn't finish it ( )
  Swybourn | May 29, 2019 |
Loved the first half but struggled with the second half. I went from engaged to bored and couldn't wait to finish it and move on. ( )
  KerryD1971 | Jan 17, 2018 |
Annalee Faro Pearse and her teenage son Daniel Pearse are members of a American counter culture organization, the Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws which is actively involved in recruiting and training individuals with particular powers and/or abilities. Supported by dues from members, AMOs right wrongs through subtle assistance or outright assassinations which run the gamut from poison to thought implants. Annalee dies in a bomb plot gone wrong, leaving Daniel to be invited to apprentice with AMO. The book was a rush, utterly engaging until the last fifty pages, when the plot line was derailed for the sake of a love interest for Daniel, a vanishing act, and an ending that fell flat. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Wow! What a strange but very intriguing book! Hard to pinpoint what genre it is, or even what it is about.
Leading thread is the life of Daniel, from day one till the story ends. The other characters circle around him, all adding a part to the story and a piece to the puzzle that Daniel is. It took me long to read the book (and I'm happy about it), because I do not have a lot of spare time to read. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Nov 6, 2014 |
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Annalee Pearce is a pregnant 16-year-old who has been placed in a corrective centre run by nuns for refusing to co-operate with authorities. Once in there, she soon rebels, breaks a sister's jaw with a "roundhouse right" and, when her son Daniel is born, she steals away into the rain.

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