Dodge Rose by Jack Cox
In 1982, Eliza arrives in Sydney with little more than a letter in her hand. She has come to settle the affairs of her recently deceased aunt, Dodge. On arrival she encounters Maxine, who is perhaps her cousin – no one is sure, although Max has been living with Dodge all her life. Together, with little knowledge and less money, they begin the laborious process of tying up Dodge’s affairs.
Thus begins, and remains, the core premise of Dodge Rose, Jack Cox’s debut novel. The core simplicity of the plot however belies the technical wizardry that is evident from the very first page. Dodge Rose is certainly not a traditionally written work of fiction.
The first half of the book is told by Max, a startlingly eloquent and melodic narrator. However, Max’s voice, as befitting her foundling and uncertain past, is also unfocused and erratic. Her long and lyrical passages are often abruptly punctured by a spasm of German or obscenity.
The second half of the book is written by a young Dodge, her inner monologue running unfettered across the pages, unbound by grammar or spelling.
Dodge Rose is as much a book as it is an experience in reading. The prose is dense and dramatically beautiful, but, with its loose adherence to narrative and grammatical convention, it is also quite intentionally overwhelming. At one stage, a great swathe of pages are devoted to the pontification between a pair of lawyers on the history of the New South Wales property laws; it is meticulously researched, but narratively cloying, yet necessary to break the reader from an act of simple enjoyment of the story and to deposit them, concurrently, into the frustratingly bureaucratic world discovered by Eliza and Max.
Dodge Rose is fresh and astonishingly good, but it is also an author’s challenge to a reader. Not a challenge to question one’s morals or their life-choices, but to examine the very technique of reading.
Tom Hoskins is the shop manager of Readings State Library Victoria.