Jim Dodge
Jake lives on a ranch in Northern California. He's an ornery, profane old bastard, with a hankering for poker, lurid stories, and hootch which he makes himself. He calls it "Death Whisper." It's good not only for flaying the mind, but for

    tractor fuel, blowing stumps, and, diluted by a drip to a pint of water, as a treatment for almost anything that ailed their stock, from scours to lungworm.

Tiny, his grandson, lives on the ranch, too. He is, as with most Americans named Tiny, not tiny at all ... stands over six-feet, build fences as a hobby, carving the posts by hand, putting faces (animal, human) on the gate-posts.

The two of them are joined by Fup. She's a duck. She weighs twenty pounds, can play checkers and work the fields with her beak like a hound-dog. She also likes drive-in movies, especially cowboy movies.

The last of this bunch is an crazy boar named Lockjaw. Like everyone in this epic, he seems to have strange powers: he can divine when Tiny is going to go after him with the shotgun, or when Fup finds out where he is.

Epic is probably an appropriate adjective for Fup, for it's epic in the style of Gargantua and Pantagruel. No one can make white lightning better than Jake. No one can build a fence better than Tiny. No one can match the appetite of Fup (she likes Death Whisper, too). No one is more gargantuanly piggie than Lockjaw.

§   §   §

This is a beguiling adventure. Dodge not only has a way with words, but he knows how to make an improbable tale hold together. All rings true ... even fat ducks, mild-mannered fence-builders, and ninety-nine year old card sharps. The phrasing is of one who loves words, loves what can be done with them.

When Tiny moves in with Jake, "He decided to just be who he was and go on about his life, and if the boy wanted to join in, that was fine and welcome, and if he didn't ..."

    well, Jake was used to fishing by himself. Real feelings take time earning the trust to keep them true and, Jake reckoned, an immortal like himself had, if nothing else, plenty of time.

All these characters do seem to be immortal. At least until the end ... when Lockjaw dies, apparently of old age, and Fug gets reborn as a slimmer, more aerodynamic duck (who flies away), and Jake, who figured himself to live well past a hundred, but then in bed one night, hears "the whisper of wings as he was lifted."

Epics --- those from long ago (ancient Rome, Greece, China, Japan) often ended with the reverse comet. The heroes die, and when they do, they don't just get buried. No: whoosh! --- their souls zoom up into the stratosphere so they can hang out with the gods, perhaps to marvel at the folly that goes on down here below.

Two of our characters here zoom, Jake most spectacularly of them all. He was "lifted," but

    He could feel in the way he was borne that they weren't angels, wouldn't have them be angels, was so sure they were ducks that he didn't even bother to open his eyes. He patiently gathered another heartbeat, another breath, and then told them stubbornly, emphatically, without a trace of repentance of regret,

"Well goddammit, I was immortal till I died."

    He waited, but there wasn't another breath. Collapsing through himself, he relaxed and let them take him.
--- Richard Saturday
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