‘Trout Fishing in America,’ Richard Brautigan
I have a confession to make:
I couldn’t stand ‘On the Road.’
Jack Kerouak going from the east coast to the west and back again whilst not doing much and not describing it in a particularly interesting way put me off the entire Beat Generation. He also made me fear that I wasn’t a real Fan of Literature, as I thought you had to love Kerouak to fulfill that criteria.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to be steered back towards it by my recent literature guru, Tris, who kindly lent me one of his two copies of this 1960’s work to flit lightly through in the evenings I spent couch-surfing his corridor recently.
The language is plastic, (‘Trout Fishing in America’ is used as everything from a book title, to a name, to a building, to who knows quite what), and the ideas flow seamlessly from the mundanely descriptive to the suddenly, beautifully surreal. Often the final line of a prosaic, descriptive short chapter will send you jarringly into the universe of the poetic and timeless, something I don’t think Jack managed to do to me once in his entire cross-country ramble. And if you don’t like fishing, don’t worry: it is merely the backdrop to the ideas.
The drunken ramblings, (of drunks at times, simply of the narrative at others), often comes within touching distance of making sense, sometimes even seeming logical on the surface: the entire novella is a kind of written chindogu, (the Japanese art of useless inventions). It will come as no surprise to any fans of cult English comedy show ‘The MIghty Boosh‘ that bizarro comedian Noel Fielding quoted Brautigan as a favourite author and inspiration for his new comedy show.
So what’s it all about? I can’t begin to pretend to have any idea, as I suspect is true of most beat literature without taking several courses on counter-cultural literature at a major arts university, so I’ll let the author present himself in some of my favourite excerpts.
Brautigan on making alcohol-induced plans to start a flea circus:
“Then they decided that the fleas that lived on Siamese cats would probably be more intelligent than the fleas that lived on just ordinary alley cats. It only made sense that drinking intelligent blood would make intelligent fleas…”
Brautigan on fishing between two graveyards:
“Only the poverty of the dead bothered me…”
Brautigan on a bookstore owner:
The owner of the bookstore came up to me and put his arm on my shoulder and said, ‘Would you like to get laid?’ His voice was very kind.
‘No,’ I said.
‘You’re wrong,’ he said..”
Brautigan on subsequently reaching orgasm with the female stranger stopped outside the bookstore by the bookstore owner:
“It was like the eternal 59th second when it becomes a minute and then looks kind of sheepish..”
(the single best post-coital simile I have ever heard).
Brautigan on camping:
“The sheep lulled themselves into senseless sleep, one following the other like the banners of a lost army…”
(‘Why senseless sleep? What is senseful sleep to sheep? Or even to humans?)
Brautigan on seasonal work:
“There were always half-a-dozen bums, but sometimes they had different faces…”
Brautigan on a flat white rock which reminds him of a white cat he had seen in his childhood:
“The cat had fallen or been thrown off a high wooden sidewalk…The fall had not appreciably helped the thickness of the cat…”
Brautigan on a Commie-hating surgeon’s search for a new home:
“We were leaving in the afternoon for Lake Josephus located at the edge of the Idaho Wilderness, and he was leaving for America, often only a place in the mind…”
Brautigan on suburban housewives:
“One spring day she had me ascend to the attic and clean up some boxes of stuff and throw out some stuff and put some stuff back into its imaginary proper place…”
(That ‘imaginary‘ being an example of the single word Brautigan can throw into the mundane to make it magical)
Brautigan on nature, (the entire last chapter being on buying a ‘used trout stream’):
“We’re selling it by the foot length. You can buy as little or as much as you want or you can buy all we’ve got left…We’re selling the waterfalls separately, of course…The insects we’re giving away free…”
And finally, Brautigan on where we end up:
“It took me all my life to get here…”
Beautifully put, and true of each and every one of us, every second of our lives.