50BC09: Book Number 45


Two Book Challenge entries in one day? Such a treat!

Jim Dodge’s Fup was more of a novella, actually, that I finished in one sitting. But what a glorious novella it was! I don’t know how else to describe it other than to call it a “guy’s story.” That doesn’t mean that I think it’s meant only for guys to read or that women can’t enjoy it. I simply mean that there is something so intrinsically…male…about the story. It’s sort of how I felt after I finished Terry Kay’s To Dance With the White Dog, which is one of my all-time favorite novels.

Both of these books depict male protagonists that are…guys. There’s no better way to describe them. They’re not necessarily machismo. On the contrary, they’re well into their twilight years. They’re curmudgeonly. They swear. They’re set in their ways. But they love in their own ways. They laugh. They’re sharp and wiry, doddering and belligerent. Colorful, kind and a swirl of so many other things that can only be summed up with…they’re guys. Most wonderfully, awesomely, honestly intricately, simply…guys.

I don’t know if I’ve properly captured what I’m aiming for here, except to say that both Kay and Dodge captured the essence of their male characters in a way that lacks any form of falsehood or false aim. They both hit their marks with perfect precision. These are characters worthy of love, but who would grouse or curse at the mere thought of being recipients of such attention.

In Fup, we meet Grandpa Jake, his grandson Tiny, and the little duckling they discover and raise. The little duckling that Grandpa Jake christens “Fup Duck.” As in ” fupped uck,” a spoonerism of “fucked up.” So if you were thinking at first that this was going to be a schmaltzy story based on that first sentence, you now know you missed the mark. It’s not syrupy, but it is a sweet story with an ending that, for all its strangeness and abruptness, seemed quite satisfactory once I processed it for a while.

This story also has a bit of an odd personal history to it.

I discovered the novella about 3 years ago, during one of my infamous Amazon.com perambulations and added it to my wish list for reasons that still elude me. It’s a story about a duck. I love animals, but I’ve never had any particular fondness for birds. Something about the description and the sample pages drew me in, however, and so Fup found a home on my list.

Fup later found its way to my front door as a birthday gift from my generous friend, Z. Fup languished for a while in my book backlog, unfortunately. However, it always remained on my nightstand, patiently awaiting its turn.

A few months ago, I went to my parents’ house to help sort through some of my grandparents’ belongings. There were a lot of books. I do come by it honestly, after all. Among all the books on war, history, gardening, philosophy, and religion…thin and small and unassuming sat Fup.

My grandmother owned a copy of this book. A book that no one else has ever recognized when I’ve told them about it. A book that I would have never heard of either, except I stumbled upon it accidentally while poking around on Amazon one day.

I picked up my grandmother’s copy and flipped through it, discovering as I did that she had written on a few pages, her distinctive script immediately recognizable. She’d also left a leaf inserted among the pages, maybe as a bookmark? I don’t know.

I brought home my grandmother’s copy and decided that this was reason enough to finally find out the story of Fup Duck. Z, I hope you don’t mind, but I read her copy rather than the one you bought me. I just needed to read something that I knew she once read. Something she annotated. Something we both shared without even realizing it. Both copies, however, have now found their way onto a bookshelf, right next to my copy of To Dance With the White Dog.

Final score: 5/5. This was a rare gem, indeed, made even more special by the familial connection recently discovered. I foresee I will be revisiting this one many times.