James McNa­mara

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Bucky F*ck­ing Dent By David Du­chovny Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 304pp, $37.99

Re­view­ers of David Du­chovny’s first novel, Holy Cow, slung plenty of ink about him be­ing an ac­tor. Fair enough — Hollywood is cool. But just be­hind that is a whiff of “celebrity hav­ing a go at writ­ing”, which is in­vid­i­ous be­cause, with a pair of Ivy League lit­er­a­ture de­grees, old mate Dave has a bet­ter lit­er­ary pedi­gree than most of his re­view­ers. So I’m not writ­ing about Du­chovny the ac­tor, be­cause that isn’t rel­e­vant: Bucky F*ck­ing Dent proves that Du­chovny is a nov­el­ist, and a damn good one.

Holy Cow was a wry, piss-takey fa­ble; deeply en­joy­able, but jokey enough that Du­chovny could have stepped away, pride in­tact, and dis­missed it as a lark if it had tanked. With Bucky F*ck­ing Dent, it feels as if Du­chovny has sat down at the prover­bial type­writer, opened a vein, and bled.

The re­sult is an ex­cel­lent lit­er­ary novel of wit, heart and emo­tional depth.

Set in 1978, Bucky F*ck­ing Dent is about Ted Lord Fenway Fullilove, a “quirky dude with a BA in English lit­er­a­ture from Columbia who works as a peanut ven­dor in Yan­kee Sta­dium while he slaves away on the great Amer­i­can novel”. Ted’s life isn’t glam­orous; he’s fat, clad in old tie-dye, drives a Corolla with plas­tic bags for win­dows, and smokes too much weed in a crappy apart­ment. His clos­est re­la­tion­ship is with a Grate­ful Dead tape.

His prose is good but his sto­ries aren’t: the heart is miss­ing. “You write well. About noth­ing,” Ted’s agent says. When Ted’s es­tranged fa­ther, the mag­nif­i­cently pro­fane Marty, is di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal lung can­cer, Ted moves home to care for him, helped by a be­guil­ing “death nurse” and love in­ter­est, Mar­i­ana. A well-trod­den nar­ra­tive, you might say. But not the way Du­chovny han­dles it.

The novel’s sur­face con­ceit is base­ball. When­ever the Red Sox win, Marty’s health im­proves. But as any­one who knows base­ball knows (i.e. not me), the Sox never win. So to keep his fa­ther alive, Ted plans to give Marty an elu­sive Red Sox World Se­ries win by fak­ing the re­sults — re­plac­ing scores in pa­pers, play­ing win­ning games on VCRs. The book’s dust jacket places this ca­per at the novel’s core, but it’s re­ally just a McGuf­fin — a plot de­vice. Du­chovny’s novel is much darker and more emo­tion­ally com­plex than that.

Back in his child­hood home, Ted grows steadily closer to a fa­ther he be­lieved ne­glected him. Within their rude ban­ter, Ted dis­cov­ers Marty’s own deep frus­tra­tions: a would-be nov­el­ist, he wrote ads in­stead of books to sup­port his fam­ily. Ted also learns that Marty’s long-term disen­gage­ment stemmed from re­ject­ing his true love to stay with Ted and his mother. Dis­cov­er­ing that Marty was a much bet­ter fa­ther than he had be­lieved prompts Ted to un­ravel him­self and con­front his skewed life story, a process that quick­ens him ar­tis­ti­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. But Du­chovny goes deeper still, into the big stuff: art, fail­ure, loy­alty, the per­sis­tence and fragility of love, mor­tal­ity, grief, and life, the “fi­nal hope­less, glo­ri­ous cha­rade”. As Marty gets sicker, fa­ther and son are shucked of their ban­ter and brought raw to each other, as flawed but lov­ing men.

These emo­tional storylines are un­furled with the nar­ra­tive skill of a screen­writer/di­rec­tor, but de­liv­ered in air-punch­ingly good prose. Within a pas­sage, Du­chovny sil­ver­fishes be­tween wit and lyri­cism, blend­ing high­brow and low, tak­ing lit­er­a­ture se­ri­ously and then pok­ing fun from the other side of the sen­tence. Ted can ob­serve his fa­ther “wo­ken from his slum­ber, vul­ner­a­ble, his dreams still cling­ing to him like … cig­a­rette smoke”, then call him an “Ornery moth­erf..ker”. This care­ful ten­sion in the prose be­tween com­edy and pathos com­mu­ni­cates one of the book’s main con­cerns: the dif­fi­culty of men com­mu­ni­cat­ing love for each other. (I still punch my brother “hello”.)

Bucky F*ck­ing Dent is an ex­cit­ing novel. It’s also promis­ing: Du­chovny flexes a lit­er­ary voice in a way that an­tic­i­pates an ex­tra­or­di­nary third book (no pres­sure, mate). There are still some kinks. No­tably, while Ted and Marty are writ­ers, they reach too of­ten for high­brow al­le­gories. As a lit­er­ary type, I can’t say I’ve ever cited Wil­liam Blake in my sub­con­scious mus­ings. But maybe I’m just miss­ing out. This self-con­scious eru­di­tion feels brit­tle, like Du­chovny jus­ti­fy­ing his place at the lit­er­ary ta­ble. But he doesn’t need to cite the great and the good for that, his writ­ing does it for him.

Too much new Amer­i­can fiction is pre­ten­tious, all lip-synch­ing the same mum­blecore ba­nal­i­ties. And as Ted’s agent says, “Life is too f..king short to read books like [that].” that. Du­chovny has writ­ten the kind of novel I’ve wanted for ages: swag­ger­ing, lit­er­ary, ro­man­tic, funny, warm-blooded, sad and true. Bucky F*ck­ing Dent is very f*ck­ing good — it’s rock ’n’ roll. And it’ll make you call your dad in the mid­dle of the night just to hear his voice. is a Syd­ney-based re­viewer.

David Du­chovny’s fiction shows him to be a star writer

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