When I saw that the flyleaf of this book read "Printed in the Good Ole United States ah America", I knew
that the author had a sense of humour, and that is always a good start. Not that one would have expected anything less from
a book entitled The Legend of Juggin’ Joe, but you never know…
The characters in the book are what a non-expert might refer to as "hillbillies", and you need to get into
the dialect before you can enjoy the stories. Joseph Yakel tries to get round this with a preparatory paragraph: "Hillfolk
an’ flatlanders gen’rally unnerstan one ‘nother well ‘nuff," he explains, apologising in advance for
his "spellin". Not a good move. Why? Well, if you have to explain something, it immediately loses some of its impact. So,
although it’s true that the spelling and use of unfamiliar words can sometimes be a bit off-putting, the self-conscious
introduction only serves to remind us that this is a work of fiction. Left to ourselves, we might stumble a little at first,
but we would soon forget that we were in fantasy-land.
This is a small niggle. I think I would have preferred a slightly less exaggerated form of the dialect on
the page. For example, would the effect really have been spoiled by writing that a person "went about tryin’ to do what
life had cast fer him" instead of "went ‘bout tryin’ tah do that what life had cast fer ‘im"? The atmosphere
conjured up by these stories is enough to keep us in the spirit and enable us to enjoy the humour, without havin’ tah
talk like that all the time, if yer sees what Ah mean.
Juggin’ Joe himself, the hero of the book, wuz – sorry, was – a one-off character, whose
escapades are in their way so innocent that we cannot help taking him to our hearts. Early in the book, Joe learns to make
music using, believe it or not, jugs. Hence the nickname. This unusual and sought-after skill makes him a local celebrity
and gives his band an edge over its rivals at the county fair. Before he has time to say "Tarnation!", Joe finds himself performing
for the President of the United States, à la Forrest Gump. In his spare time, he finds himself a girlfriend called Florentine,
but is forced to give her up because of an "incident". (It all turns out well in the end.)
If I had to describe the tone of The Legend of Juggin’ Joe in one word, it would be "light-hearted"
(sorry, that’s two words) rather than "comic". My ideal way to imbibe these stories would be aurally, perhaps as a radio
show or a tape or CD to listen to in the car. Unless you count the "incident" with Florentine, a few blasphemous exclamations,
and the most slapstick category of violence, it is good clean inoffensive fun and would make great family listening. I wonder
if Joseph Yakel has written it with this in mind. Taking my cue from Juggin’ Joe’s own meteoric rise to fame,
I can easily envisage a whole series of books and tapes becoming popular with "folks" of all ages. I hope it happens.