on 1 September 2003
Loved or hated, 'Trout Fishing in America' should not be ignored - a modern classic that spawned an original slant on the post-beat novel.
The metaphor - 'Trout Fishing in America' - is explained candidly in the first three chapters, or 'seductions', then woven into the fabric of experience like a sun ray threading through a grey cloud sky. Brautigan took the 'Road Novel' format and applied it to record journeys along the highways and byways of mind.
Written during a time when many young writers, artists and politicians were committed to searching for an alternative America, the book seeks to explore landscape as a memory of former conditions. Brautigan's prose invokes a quirky and unexpected beauty in all its events in a way that no-one else has quite managed since.
I first read the book (with awe) in 1969 as an undergraduate, subsequently holding dear everything else that the man ever produced. Not his best work but essentially THE FIRST - That's why you really should purchase and read this book.
on 23 April 2002
Richard brautigan has an amazing way with words. He has an ability to say exactly what you are feeling, yet are incapable of expressing, in the simplest way. He made me remember the beauty in a string of letters. "Hands are very nice things, especially after they have travelled back from making love". I have read most of his books and this is my favourite by far. It was one of the first I read and it got me hooked.
This book is very surreal but at the same time it is possible to relate to it. To understand what he was trying to tell us about his fictional community, iDEATH. That it represents the death of the individual in society.
It is a very simple, beautiful book that I can read over and over and see in a different way every time.
on 23 December 1998
Richard Brautigan traipses across the United States looking for good trout fishing and possibly satisfaction. It's a meandering chain of vignettes with occasional plot and some lovely rural prose. A real contrast with the angrier urban beat stars: the actual time and setting of the adventures seem to trickle into the story, instead of bashing through the narrative. I think Brautigan projected a subtle sense of disappointment with the time, but contentment with the life.
on 4 August 2013
'In Watermelon Sugar' is a fabulistic portrayal of a community based in the fictional town of iDEATH captured by a resident, unnamed narrator who, with a poetic, wistful detachment, offers a personal view of this strange utopian oddity where the sun shines a different colour every day of the week, and dark, mysterious elements gather and disperse on the town's fringes.
It's a short novel split up into brief gnomic chapters written in a quirky, unpretentious style. The fragmentary facts we learn about iDEATH along the way create an ambiguous feel: sometimes idyllic, sometimes unsettling. Sinister even.
It's a partial view created by a seemingly sympathetic character, but one who is consistently unreflective and, arguably, entirely superficial. The profoundly significant aspects of iDEATH then are not satisfactorily articulated, or remain obscure to our narrator. However, they are glimpsed at by the reader in wonderful, brief, surprising passages told like parables.
A tremendously haunting, poetic achievement.
on 4 March 2007
Far from proving some critics right that his work was "for the '70s", Richard Brautigan seems to be faring pretty well into the new millennium. Seems like the books are selling pretty well on Amazon, there's a new (2007) collection of essays on him, a new German publisher has taken up the books, etc. "Trout Fishing" is an American classic, "in the American grain." Idiosyncratic, teasing, surreal, yes, but some great real fishing narratives there too, up with that episode in "The Sun Also Rises" and the classic work of Roderick Haig-Brown (whose ecological writing I recommend if you don't know it). "Trout Fishing" is also a narrative of the American West, specifically Idaho--Sawtooth, River of No Return Wilderness areas, etc. Interesting to note that Brautigan was travelling through Idaho in the summer in which Hemingway killed himself there--mentioned in passing in the text; I don't remember if there is a mention of Brautigan in Ketchum. In part too a family narrative--the narrator, his wife (Virginia; "Ginny"; although mostly called "the woman who travels with me") and his one-year or so old daughter (Ianthe). All of the travels are fictionalised, one believes, but not perhaps altogether so. Anyway, this is the novel which seems to have the most going for it, is taught most (I believe) of his work world-wide. There's a lot in it--time I think for a proper definitive edition, with maps, etc. But a lot of fun too!
on 4 February 2008
This is a phenomenal book. If Kerouac's On the Road is the Beat bible, then this is the Hippy bible. Full of sunlight and wonder and cool humour (and I know that that's been said before). An incredible mix of that and magical word play and mind thought. But none of that even does it justice. As another reviewer suggests, it's not a knowing book but an innocent rural ramble. Groundbreaking, in an era when books were just about to drop out of the youth consciousness (to be replaced by music, and T.V., and video games?). If you're one of the few that still love reading - buy it! Even if you're not a Hippy - buy it. If you've ever experienced life, which is all of you, - buy it! And I'll watch that trout, released from your hook, dart to freedom in the mossy weed. My mother, when I first bought it in 1970, finding the cover attractive, said 'Oh, that's a lovely book' and started reading it. She gave it me back next day saying: 'What a nasty book'. I can only think she must have come across a swear word, or some sexual reference. There aren't many there.
'In Watermelon Sugar' may be Richard Brautigan's best book. It's certainly one of the most completely characteristic: even at the time of its publication critics were struggling for terms of comparison. Its reputation may have suffered because Brautigan's immense early popularity aroused suspicions about his quality; it may be that its short length is confused with slightness. Nonetheless, whatever the reservations one may have about his other work, 'In Watermelon Sugar' needs no apologies.
Written in a deliberately artless, almost affectless style and in very short chapters, the novel - a novella or long short story, really - seems to invite fast, uncommitted reading. The reader who is prepared to slow down and ponder the implications of Brautigan's simple sentences will find the effort repaid.
It's a measure of the book's hidden complexity that it has been received as both a utopia and a dystopia. It's probably fair to say that that paradox reflects the author's deep ambivalence about the style of living emerging in the late '50s and early '60s on the American west coast.
Set at an uncertain distance in the future, 'In Watermelon Sugar' introduces us to iDEATH, a community that fuses aspects of contemporary hippie utopianism with an authentic American surrealism. The unnamed narrator - who actually has no name - relates in a meandering manner some of the history of iDEATH and the odd customs of its inhabitants: the conflict with the 'tigers', a living remnant of the almost vanished older world; his own attempts to write in a world in which books are mainly fuel; his relationship with the women Margaret and Pauline; Margaret's fascination with the Forgotten Works and its treasure trove of enigmatic artefacts; and the tragicomic insurrection of the curmudgeonly inBOIL. Gradually Brautigan constructs out of hints a picture of a world that has grown out of the ruins of our own, and in which a great deal has been sacrificed in the name of calm and content.
Published in 1968, but written in 1964, 'In Watermelon Sugar' was Brautigan's third novel and the last of those written in the '60s that made his reputation. I find it the best of the three: intelligent and sad, and well worth the brief investment of time in reading. This is the book that best explains why Brautigan was once reviewed respectfully alongside such other American fabulists as Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme. Perhaps one day he - or this book, at least - will see a posthumous revaluation.
A truly beatiful book that has to be in my Top 10 of all time.
A story about an idyllic community that is blighted by some tragic events, yet still manges to retain a sense of happiness and harmony.
I remember my father being surprised that I saw so much beauty in this book, because the things that he took from it were the upset, suffering, and death. And to an extent I can see his point of view, but for me the positive outways the negative. Maybe he's just a bit more cynical than me.
I for one love it and always will.
on 23 January 2012
Richard Brautigan is not a commercial writer, not someone for the masses. Be forewarned!
But his writing is innovative, full of a grace and fluidity which few writers exhibit.
All his lines in this book feel surreal, from another world, and the sugary sweetness of it is also tinged with a bit of sadness.
I love his poetic writing and I only recommend him for people who think out of the box and feel they are open to manifestations of lyricism which stray from the canon and the conventional stuff.
After discovering my father's Richard Brautigan collection when I was 12 and reading 'A Confederate General from Big Sur' and 'The Hawkline Monster', reading "Trout Fishing in America' seemed a bit of a disappointment to me. From rich, descriptive, beautiful chapters to a seemingly unrelated, mix of random stories.
But that was when I was 12 !
In the last 16 years I have come back to it again and again and have loved it.
All the little stories, descriptions, and characters mesh together perfectly to form a most enjoyable book that doesn't lose anything over time, no matter how many times you come back to it.