The first section of the novel (if it is, indeed a novel – I’m still undecided) finds Eliza on a train towards Maxine. Eliza’s an estranged niece of Dodge’s and Max is the adopted daughter. Even though Max is the narrator, we’re witness to Eliza on the train, writing a letter to Max. This strange positioning is a clue to the challenges that lay ahead for readers.
Aside from curious narration, there’s a lack of punctuation: sentences that should be questions lack the question mark; quotation marks are obsolete; capitalised first-words are hit or miss. And I’m very much willing to go along with young Sydney author Jack Cox because he’s doing something completely out-of-the-box and surely it’ll pay off – I mean, look at all the hype he’s getting.
But when the book goes off on nearly 20 pages of homebuyers’ regulations and rights with only a couple of paragraph breaks, I start to lose interest in the avant-gardeness of the exercise. And because Cox does this sort of thing again and again with pages of inventory and no paragraph breaks in sight, I feel that the book is an exercise. A post-modern one. Or one of the “anti-novel”, as another reviewer has said.
A writer friend of mine recently bemoaned that some books read as if the author sat down and said, “Right! I am now going to write a prize-winning novel!” – and bam, said author is on the festival circuit and getting prize stickers on books, process kowtowing to book sales.
If that’s true, then Dodge Rose is the opposite, a book in which the author sat down and said: “Right! I’m now going to write a novel to piss off all the readers of prize-winning books!”, with book sales considered of no importance and process everything.
I’m okay with either scenario as long as I care about someone in the book. I think I’m supposed to care about a house. Or the stuff inside of the house.
In the second half of the book we meet the deceased Dodge, who is only a child. This introduction does nothing for plot because there is no plot. Nor does it move any of the characters forward because the book lacks characterisation. We become aware that everything Eliza and Max try to sell in part one is what’s being accumulated in part two. It’s clever, but I have to go back to empathy here. I want a connection over style (call me a middle-brow literary reader) or better yet: connection paired with style.
Cox’s language is searing and pure, that’s a given, but don’t expect to be emotionally invested in this book. It’s a thinking book. It’ll be talked about in most intellectual circles for a very long time, no doubt, so get your copy now if you want to join the discussion.
Jack Cox’s Dodge Rose is published by Text Publishing, $29.99.