My Writing

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Trout Fishing in America," "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster," and "In Watermelon Sugar" by Richard Brautigan

I bought this book that collects together two novels and one poem collection by Richard Brautigan. I liked it. The first thing I liked was the cover of Trout Fishing in America (I liked the covers of the other two books as well, which are reproduced inside). I have thought in the past that it would be cool if authors put photos of themselves or something from their real life on the covers of their books. Trout Fishing in America's cover has a photo of Brautigan with a woman in front of a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

I found Trout Fishing in America consistently amusing. Occasionally the humor felt silly in an unfunny way, but mostly it was witty and made me think the writing was deceptively casual. The style often seems simple or conversational, but the turns in logic and the way he ends paragraphs or startled me with a sentence or mysteriously closed out his often very short chapters was very interesting and satisfying to me. Also intriguing to me was the way Brautigan uses Trout Fishing in America as an all-purpose proper noun and theme. There's a character named Trout Fishing in America Shorty, and something to do with trout fishing is included in nearly every chapter. The repetition and the creative use of the phrase and concept suggested to me a novel-long building of an abstract notion through concrete people and things. The chapters are as creative and linguistically precise as a great collection of poems, and the recurrent notion of fishing, of an American pastime as fluid metaphor, seemed effective to me.

All three of these books are creative and feel lived-in, made me think Brautigan lived a fun life, but that is especially true of the poetry collection, The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster. These poems are very short and very charming, in my opinion. The book and many of the poems are dedicated to a "Miss Marcia Pacaud of Montreal, Canada." I like that. There are sexual poems, poems about sadness that didn't make me feel sad, joyful musical poems, poems with real-life people as protagonists (there's a series of poems with Baudelaire doing various things that I liked a lot). I really enjoyed this book a lot. Brautigan seems like he'd be fun to hang out with.

I liked In Watermelon Sugar as well, but it seemed slightly more belabored than the others. Rather than flitting from poem to poem or coming at a theme from fresh angles every page or so, this book seems to have something closer to a "proper novelistic form" with a story and more explicitly developed themes. It seemed very creative and charming to me, like the others, but I thought it a dragged a bit, despite its short chapters, and hammered home its points a bit more. In this book there are several recurrent words used as themes---this time it's watermelon sugar, iDEATH, and inBOIL. A group of characters hang in and around a place called iDEATH, and many of their household items and clothes are made from watermelon sugar. There's a backstory about tigers and a falling out with a character called inBOIL. The falling out seems to be over one's attitude toward iDEATH, or perhaps simply death. I enjoyed the story, but I like Brautigan best when he is free to wander wherever his whim, because his mind seems as sharp as it is funny as it is joyful even in sadness.

"listening to The Mamas and The Papas

singing a song about breaking
somebody's heart and digging it!

I think I'll get up
and dance around the room.

Here I go!"


  1. Brautigan wrote some amazing stuff. Nice review, Stephen.

    I would also suggest Revenge of the Lawn (his short stories) and The Abortion: A Historical Romance 1966 (another fabulously imaginative novel).

  2. the abortion is great

    brautigan seems a cool dude
    coolest dude

  3. cool, brittany, i'll look for that one. definitely want to read more things by him