Information and resources, background, publication, reviews and criticism for each Brautigan novel. LEARN more. Stories Stories that read more like poetry than fiction. Exquisite little gems of imaginative writing. Three others after his death. Non-Fiction Essays, reviews, blurbs, letters, and papers.
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The Times Literary Supplement , 14 Aug. NOTE: The following material may be protected under copyright. It is used here for archival, educational, and research purposes, not for commercial gain or public distribution. Trout Fishing in America is playful and serious, hilarious and melancholy, profound and absurd.
Its "characters" are scarcely less elusive and amorphous than its plot, which in traditional terms is nonexistent; and its emotional tone varies inconclusively from the poignant to the inconsequential. To describe it as a book written in a protesting spirit would give no sense of the light-hearted ripple of its pervasive humour; just as to label it some kind of quasi-surrealist comedy would be to miss the quite specific causes of its underlying sadness and anger. Such preliminary remarks perhaps suggest how idiosyncratic, how delightfully unique a prose-writer Richard Brautigan is.
Implicitly assuming a lost American Eden, Brautigan builds his book around a number of contrasts: between a hopeful past and a distressed present; between rural beauty and urban squalor, between natural paradise and social purgatory; between lilting imagination and lumpish reality. Was it Kafka who learned about America by reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
Any "systematic" pessimism, such as was flaunted by a Californian predecessor like Jeffers, would be almost as ponderously inappropriate here as optimism. As for health, in the cities there are cripples and winos; in the country hepatitis and the graves of the derelict-dead.
A century ago Thoreau had Walden Pond for idyllic retreat; now, "a Walden Pond for Winos" turns out to be an insane asylum. It can have all the wondrous clarity of the best American writing in that mode.
It appears, however, intermittently, for nature is on the way out, is no match for commerce, the wilderness is changing its dress from the natural to the industrial. Opening the book, we glance at Pittsburgh, where trout are made into steel, "used to make buildings, trains and tunnels"; we end up in the Cleveland Wrecking Yard, where wild animals, waterfalls, and stretches of a Colorado trout stream, stacked in piles outside the plumbing department, are being sold off at bargain prices.
Although a surgeon, a school principal, and even Maria Callas make fleeting appearances here, success and respectability are for the most part alien presences. This is a world of the failed and the disreputable; of shack-dwellers and dirt-farmers; of pimps. It is a shabby world illuminated by rays of a marvellous compassion which would transform this reality of the poor and cast it "up into the sky, watching it float over clouds and then into the evening Star.
The "Supreme Executioner" poisons trout to a twitching death with port wine. A shepherd, looking like "Adolf Hitler, but friendly," leads his flock "lulled into senseless sleep" towards Stalingrad. Two FBI agents keep permanent watch over a trout stream.
His sentences, whether soberly informative or wildly hallucinating, are seldom troubled by dependent clauses. He has a fondness for similes, both strikingly apt and superbly irrelevant. And his flashing incongruities and rambling non sequiturs probably owe less to European surrealism than to Hollywood silent comedies and the general ethos of "psychedelic California.
It is an egoless world of vision and imagination, in which "our lives we have carefully constructed out of watermelon sugar and then travelled to the length of our dreams. All is watermelon-sugar-sweet: "we work it into the shape of this thing that we have: our lives. The narrator is writing a book, "one word after another". His girlfriend is Margaret: he falls in love with Pauline.
The sweetness is soured only by inBOIL and his gang of drunks, foul and fierce and dirty. They live in the Forgotten Works and rummage around amongst the debris of forgotten times, making whiskey out of forgotten things, like books. This is a just a figment of your imagination. So saying, these anachronisms from the Forgotten Works proceed systematically to mutilate themselves to death.
Pauline mops up the mess, the inhabitants of iDEATH cart off the bodies in wheelbarrows and burn them along with all the Forgotten Works. Margaret hangs herself from an apple tree.
Her funeral takes place on "the black and soundless day". As the fable ends, everyone is waiting for sunset at the close of the soundless day, so that sound and music and dance can begin again. Whether the dancing starts and everyone lives happily ever after, we will never know for sure. In Watermelon Sugar has the charm of the fairy story it almost is. But it has neither the emotional complexity, nor the imaginative ingenuity, nor the implicit historical and cultural awareness, not the acute and tough critical-mindedness of Trout Fishing in America.
In important respects it really is more sentimental, less radical. In fact, many of the insights of the one book undercut the sugary values of the other; for until the poor and the broken inherit trout-fishing-in-America, the community of iDEATH will be "a masquerade party".
In Trout Fishing in America Brautigan writes of a hippie playing poor in the California bush: "This is all very funny to her. Her parents have money". That is the dimension that is absent from In Watermelon Sugar. It is good that two works of so gifted a writer, with so unpredictably inventive an imagination, are now readily available in this country.
Brautigan is thirty-five years old and has written over the past decade several other books of poetry and prose.
Let us hope that more of them will soon appear here, especially A Confederate General from Big Sur , with its splendidly outrageous hero, Lee Mellon, and its multiplicity of endings, eventually ", ending, per second.
Reading Richard Brautigan often gives me the sensation of gazing in a mirror. He and I are nearly the same age, grew up in similar circumstances in small Western towns and cities, and moved to the Bay Area at about the same time. There is, then, a narcissist pleasure in seeing what feels like my own experience given a clarity of expression I have rarely been able to give it.
But beyond this shared experience I sense a larger similarity. With a shift in focus I see, "behind" me in the mirror, my society, the social "nature" and its natural setting as they are now, including the social myths that at once unite and divide the society as they mediate its sense and senses of reality.
Rather it is the truth of the self-image, the accurate picture it gives of my ambivalence toward the experience that is "mine" and helped make me "me. Trout Fishing in America shows especially well the boundaries and common ground of these two related ambivalences, and here I will try, from my position near the mirror, to describe their topographies.
Although the parallax will be a problem by moving closer for just a while. My reminiscences will be brief. I was a trout fisherman once. It started in Kansas, where the only trout are behind glass at the fish-hatchery aquarium. Maybe there were some in western Kansas that had taken a wrong turn in the Rockies and were dying of heat and muddy water, but if so they were too far to be in my Kansas.
Besides, who wants muddy trout? I began trout fishing as many do—maybe most—by reading. After I was hooked I found evidence in the public library that others had been caught in Kansas before me, for there were whole books on famous trout streams—Brautigan parodies their titles in Trout Fishing in America. I probably hooked myself. Even trout do sometimes. They fished for catfish there in central Kansas. The ambitious fished for big ones using liver chunks or blood-soaked dough on treble hooks, squidding line, and star-drag reels taped and tied on home-rigged cane poles.
Congratulations boys. I apprenticed myself to one, a railroad engineer, who taught me to fly-cast. When I was ready we fished sandpits, pretending the bluegill and occasional bass we caught were trout.
Then, when I was twelve, I no longer had to pretend. We moved to Salt Lake City, where there are trout in the irrigation ditches as well as in the cold mountain streams that would dead-end in the desert if not diverted into those ditches. With just enough luck to keep me at it I fished where I could, going with friends to the mountains or by myself on the bus to the edge of town and hitching rides to good ditches.
Some readers will have their own to insert. The ditches, anyway, are nameless to me, by and large, but I remember the names of lakes, rivers, creeks, and sometimes say them to myself. Trout fishing does that to you. One last reminiscence as part of my credentials for writing about Brautigan. I learned to swim in an alkali spring in the middle of a field in Kansas. It was easy to spot—nothing grew around it.
We boys thought the alkali healed cuts and scratches but went there, not for medicine, but because the county lake was far away. Since alkali water was also free, we were able to take a quick swim and to deceive our parents about where we had been—or so we hoped as we brushed the dried alkali from our skin. Who knows what parents know?
If they did I was permitted the pleasure of this deception, an act of love on their part I can now appreciate through not reciprocate.
It was fun sneaking off, swimming, and letting the sun dry us off as it already had the mud there in the gulley out of the wind. But I could swim. It makes a nice picture in my mind now, a little bit like the swimming holes Eakins painted except for that dry mud and the fact we never dived. Of course there was more green in his Pennsylvania than in my Kansas. There were trout streams too.
It worked, but not like trout fishing. Here I must qualify that word escape, for some of my readers may think it unfitting to evade, even temporarily, "reality" or "history.
But any sympathy with modern speculation about myth and its functions can show the way to where escape is both inevitable and possibly a critical act.
For if myths govern all our ordering of reality, if all but the basic categories of intuition are set by them, then "to escape" is to live for a while through some myth other than the dominant one. As such its "reality" quotient will usually be low, it will be less likely to produce interpretations or actions that bring assent. But sometimes it will stir strong assent, for the dominant myth is itself a patchwork of those other and older myths, and under stress these patches balloon out into alternatives to the "reality" of the dominant.
In this case they have not "merely" escaped. Myth and rural reality have interpenetrated, so that while the air may have reeked of sheep shit, as it does once in Trout Fishing in America , the smell is as real as the stench of smog and a reality not long sustained without a noble though temporary belief in the reality of crystal and ether.
The taste of trout, likewise, is a reality that perpetuates the myth by validating it, for with such a reward who would not quest it again? Going trout fishing, then, keeps alive the myth of a pastoral world and is in turn given reality by the realities of "nature" it touches the fisherman with. But if "natural" reality is given new life, so too is urban reality and the myths that sustain it, though the new awareness can include a critical element that differentiates values and uncovers our contradictory allegiances.
We see more easily, for example, how the myth of Moving to the Suburbs, or, A Piece of the Country of Your Own, mixes city and country values, and we are made to feel how contradictory they are.
Trout Fishing in America
Start your review of Trout Fishing in America Write a review Shelves: unstablenarratives , these-fragile-lives , super-private-journal , unicorn , mind-the-gap I went up to Portland for the weekend to see my friend Trout Fishing in America get married. Portland is a great town and my friend is a great guy. Unfortunately I got the stomach flu or food poisoning or something and so I missed out on all but 45 minutes of his wedding, and on seeing old friends and all the drinking and the strip clubs and the late night Voodoo donuts and the arcade that everyone loves. All of that.
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The Times Literary Supplement , 14 Aug. NOTE: The following material may be protected under copyright. It is used here for archival, educational, and research purposes, not for commercial gain or public distribution. Trout Fishing in America is playful and serious, hilarious and melancholy, profound and absurd. Its "characters" are scarcely less elusive and amorphous than its plot, which in traditional terms is nonexistent; and its emotional tone varies inconclusively from the poignant to the inconsequential.
Overview[ edit ] Trout Fishing In America is an abstract book without a clear central storyline. Instead, the book contains a series of anecdotes broken into chapters, with the same characters often reappearing from story to story. Most of the chapters were written during this trip. The phrase "Trout Fishing in America" is used in various ways: it is the title of the book, a character, a hotel, the act of fishing itself, a modifier one character is named "Trout Fishing in America Shorty" and other things. Brautigan uses the theme of trout fishing as a point of departure for thinly veiled and often comical critiques of mainstream American society and culture. The cover of the book is a photograph of Brautigan and a friend identified as Michaela Le Grand, whom he referred to as his "Muse. The first chapter of the book is an extended and fanciful description of this photo.
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