Brautigan > Dreaming of Babylon
This node of the American Dust website (formerly Brautigan Bibliography and Archive) provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942. Published in 1977, this was Brautigan's eighth published novel. It parodied hard-boiled Grade-B detective stories. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.
Publication information regarding Richard Brautigan's novel Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942.
First USA Edition
New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence,
ISBN-10 0-440-02146-4; ISBN-13 9780440021469
5.5" x 8.25"; 220 pages
Hard Cover, with dust jacket
Black cloth boards; Gilt titled spine; Purple endpapers and topstain
Front dust jacket color illustration by Craig Nelson
No illustration or photograph on back
Initially, Brautigan intended to use a photograph of himself on the cover. A March 1977 photograph session in his Bolinas, California, home with photographer Erik Weber produced several photographs of Brautigan in a new detective fedora. However, Brautigan decided not to use any of these photographs for the cover.
Advance uncorrected proofs in yellow printed wrappers
Publisher's information slip laid into review copies states publication date of 27 September 1977.
A photograph by Erik Weber, of Brautigan wearing a detective fedora, looking the part of a 1940s detective, was part of the promotional efforts for the book.
Publisher's information slip included with book reads in part, "It is early 1942. You are in San Francisco, and you need a private eye. Sam Spade is rumored to be in Istanbul. The Continental Op has been drafted and is a sergeant in the Aleutians. Philip Marlowe is up at Little Fawn Lake investigating the disappearance of Mrs. Derace Kingsley. Lew Archer is in the army. Who's left? Nobody but C. Card. You haven't heard of C. Card? That's all right. Nobody has.
"When you hire C. Card, the hero of Richard Brautigan's eighth novel, you have scraped the bottom of the private eye barrel. But you won't be bored. No, indeed. Because when C. Card finds some bullets for his gun, you will be in for some fast, funny, slam-bang private eye adventures. Unless of course C. Card starts dreaming of Babylon. If C. Card starts thinking of Babylon, all bets are off.
"Not since Trout Fishing in America has Brautigan so successfully combined his wild sense of humor with the incredible poetic imagination he is rightfully famous for around the world. The adventures of seedy, not-too-bright C. Card, as he carefully wends his way between fantasy and reality. Babylon and San Francisco, are a delight to both the mind and the heart. Richard Brautigan is forty-two years old and has written eighteen books. He is an internationally known author whose works have been translated into fifteen languages. In the Spring of 1978, he will publish a volume of poetry called June 30th, June 30th."Close
First published in 1977, Dreaming of Babylon was Richard Brautigan's eighth published novel and the fourth to parody a literary genre. Subtitled "A Private Eye Novel 1942" it parodied hard-boiled Grade-B detective stories.
This one is for Helen Brann
with love from Richard.
Helen Brann was Brautigan's literary agent. She began to represent Brautigan while working at The Sterling Lord Agency, and he continued with her when she opened her own agency, The Helen Brann Agency.Close
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." Choice, Jan. 1978, p. 1494.
The full text of this review reads, "Brautigan's latest is a spoof of [Dashiell] Hammett, [Raymond] Chandler, et al.: a period detective piece that takes place in the San Francisco of 1942. His down-on-his-luck detective, C. Card, is in such desperate shape that he has to borrow bullets. Give the odd anachronism, the imitation is not bad but the resultant mix is more like a parody than sincere imitation; the whimsy is, by now, getting as tiresome as sixties' cant; and the fallback upon subplot, a device Brautigan seems to wish to patent, is without apparent aim. It is time someone gave the Brautigan turntable a kick; it is beginning to stick in a most familiar groove. Forgettable fun; an exercise for the children of Evelyn Wood."
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." Kirkus Reviews, 1 July 1977, p. 677.
The full text of this review reads, "The year of the belles-lettres detective (Berger's Villanova, Feiffer's Ackroyd) finds unpredictable Richard Brautigan at his very breeziest—inside the mind of C. Card, the worst shamus in 1942 San Francisco, bereft of clients, cash, and companionship: 'It's hard to find people to kiss when you haven't got any money in your pocket and you're as big a fuckup as I am.' Today, however, there's a prospective client to meet, if only Card can avoid his rent-seeking landlady, scrounge bullets for his gun, and resit the delicious temptation to daydream of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon ('just like a song playing on th radio in my mind'), where he stages such comic-strip adventures as Smith Smith Versus the Shadow Robots. Serendipity strikes—"Bullets for my gun! Five dollars! And best of all, a dead landlady!"—and the elegant, blond, beer-guzzling client hires Card to steal a murdered hooker's body from the morgue; this would be dandy if she hadn't also hired some gun-toting thugs to snatch the same cadaver and some razor-wielding blacks to ambush Card on his way to the 1:00 a.am. cemetery rendezvous. Neither parody nor genre re-creation, this cartwheeling fantasy is more like a sentimental comic book without the pictures—the Babylonian pipedreams and occasional Brautiganian whimsies ('As I walked along, I pretended that I had a prefrontal lobotomy') do their tricks without keeping C. Card from getting where he's going, which is nowhere. As a result, the deceptively simple sentences, the two-page chapters, and the surface amusements generate about the fastest 220 pages you'll ever read—leaving lots of extra time to wonder what, if anything, it all meant."
Bannon, Barbara A. "Dreaming of Babylon." Publishers Weekly, 20 June 1977, p. 67.
The full text of this review reads, "Even in 1942, with the ablebodied competition away at war, C. Card is the most unsuccessful private eye in San Francisco. His ineptness dates back to when he was beaned by a baseball and subsequently found himself dreaming of Babylon—quite unimaginative dreams, of playing ball in 596 B.C. or running a detective agency near the Hanging Gardens. Then a paying client appears on the scene—a rich beer-drinking blonde in a chauffeured Cadillack who offers Card $1000 to seal a body from the morgue. It takes him a while to get organized and find bullets for his gun, but eventually he hits the morgue, where he finds other people have been hired by the blonde to nab the same body. Confusion, car chases, and a final ambiguous scene with Card's mother at the cemetary. Brautigan tells his whimsical little tale in dozens of short chapters that will add up to something meaningful to those initiated into Brautigan land and lore."
Publishers Weekly, 14 August 1978, p. 68.
Benoit, Claude. "El Regresso del Detective Privado [The Return of the Private Detective]." Cuadernos del Norte, vol. 4, no. 19, 1983, pp. 46-59.
Says "Richard Brantigan" [sic] is a writer who does not specialize in police novels, that his intention is parody, and that Dreaming of Babylon is a false police novel.
Brein, Alan. "The Voice of Vile Bodies." The Sunday Times [London], 16 Apr. 1978, p. 41.
Reviews Success by Martin Amis, Hunt by A. Alvarez, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "Richard Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon is a short comedy-thriller, made even shorter by being divided into some 80 three-page chapters, thus leaving plenty of white space throughout. It is also thin—an attenuated tale of wartime San Francisco, where a luckless medically unfit private eye commissioned to steal a corpse from the morgue is continually hindered by his day-dreaming fantasies of life in old Babylon with a swinging Nebuchadnezzar and a lovely handmaiden Nana-dirat. Mildly funny, hardly ever thrilling, it is quite endearing in its eccentric, self-indulgent fashion but something of a let-down from the author of Trout Fishing in America."
Cawelti, John G. "Gumshoeing It." Chicago Sun-Times, 28 Aug. 1977, Sec. 3, p. 8.
Says [Dreaming of Babylon] "is a sleek but sophomoric parody, and that's about it." READ this review.
Cheval, Christophe. "Richard Brautigan: Un Privé à Babylone." Page Noir, ***?***.
READ this review, in French.
Davis, J. Madison. "Tough Guys with Long Legs: The Global Popularity of the Hard-Boiled Style." World Literature Today, vol. 78, no. 1, Jan.-Apr. 2004, pp. 36-40.
Mentions Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon as an example of an amiable emulation and re-vision of the hard-boiled detective literary genre noted for its realism, social commentary, and police procedural form (39).
Davis, Rick. "Dreaming of Babylon." West Coast Review of Books, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 1978, p. 33.
The full text of this review reads, "A private eye novel 1942 as the subtitle says, would mean to this reader Maltese Falcon and Dashiell Hammett, a knock-em-down-set-em-up-in-the-other-alley type of detective novel. Not so [Dreaming of Babylon]. It wallows in the thoughts of the P.I. which have haunted him since childhood, of interest only to himself. When he finally meets the client he set out to meet at the beginning, the book is half over, and all over for interest! One was tempted to quit at that point, but integrity as a critic and fairness to the author kept one going. A direct quote from the P.I. 'This whole thing was just like a pulp detective story. I couldn't believe it,' is only half right. The only resemblance to a private eye story circa 1942 begins and ends with a P.I. and a beautiful girl. The end of the quote expresses this reviewer's opinion, 'I couldn't believe it.'
"Another direct quote—'a bite out of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, the old BLT'—sounds more like a 1970's quote from Get Smart!
"[Brautigan] does make an attempt to redeem himself at the halfway point by switching to humor (?), but it's too forced to work. All in all, a book to forget."
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 9. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1978, pp. 123-25.
Desruisseaux, Paul. "Brautigan's Mad Body-Snatcher." San Francisco Examiner, 18 Dec. 1977, This World [section], p. 60.
The full text of this review reads, "Ever since Richard Brautigan went from being a cult author to pop idol his new works have each, in succession, been touted with handily hocus-pocused hyperbole used by publishers to complete the sentence, 'Not since Trout Fishing in America has Richard Brautigan . . .' Well, truth be told, not since Trout Fishing in America has Brautigan written a book like it. None of his newer novels has approached that early work in freshness and surprise. Some have come close, and been very entertaining, but not among them is his latest, subtitled 'A Private Eye Novel 1942.'
"If it weren't stated in the subtitle, we wouldn't know when this story takes place, for instead of an era's atmosphere we get only its clichés. 'Beggars can't be choosers.' 'You just can't win.' 'You take the cake.' 'Who could ask for anything more?'
"That withstanding, we are in 1942 San Francisco, and C. Card is on the case. He has little smarts, so he's had few clients, so he has no money. But now he has a case, which means cash: 'I hadn't seen much money since I'd gotten paid off for my automobile accident,' he says. He's been hired not as a detective but as a death-napper: he must steal a body from the morgue. When he goes to do the dirty deed, he confronts a crew of hoods out to cop the same corpse, which is, of course, the curse of the body-snatchers.
"Aside from his general inabilities, Card has a special handicap: dreaming of Babylon, which he's been at the mesmeric mercy of since being bopped on the bean with a baseball back when. His wool gathering is relentless: he could clothe more sheep than he'd ever need to count. In Babylon he is a sci-fi writer in whose latest work a mad, or at least very upset scientist keeps changing unsuspecting sick people into shadow robots until he's 'made enough shadows to create an artificial night large enough to take over a small town.' Sounds like a more interesting adventure than C. Card's, but we must return to the scene of the crime: Brautigan's typewriter.
"This is the author's fifth consecutive 'genre' novel (each has been in a different genre). The way he does it, working in these modes is like doing the crossword: it might be kind of fun, but it isn't writing. John Cheever says a novel is 'anything that interests you,' but these books don't seem to qualify even by such a lax definition."
Disch, Thomas M. "Dumber Than Dumb." The Times Literary Supplement [London], 14 Apr. 1978, p. 405.
The full text of this review reads. "There he stands, in full-frontal silhouette, recognizable as an icon despite the new styling (a drawing, not a snapshot), the author of the book. He glowers from under the identifying wide-brimmed hat, the eternal hippy, in his wild whiskers and gentle jeans—a changeless product in the flux of time. Except for his name and the title, Dreaming of Babylon, no other datum intrudes upon the cover's fields of stark white and raw fuchsia. One may judge the book quite well without going farther, for just so, within, nothing claims one's attention but the author's laid-back, softly self-aggrandizing persona. Not even his voice, this time, much less a story. Ostensibly a tale is being told, but a tale so systematically witless, so deliberately weary, stale, flat and dumbass that the most guileless reader would not be able to accept it at face value.
"The subtitle, "A Private Eye Novel 1942", would suggest that Dreaming is a pastiche of the hard-boiled detective novel, but that does the book too much credit, or Hammett and Chandler too little. Brautigan's post-work-ethic sensibility necessarily abjures the degree of sustained, effortful concentration that pastiche or parody would require. He is the laureate of the limited attention span. (The seventy-nine chapters of Dreaming average out at less than two pages each if one discounts all the blank pages.)
"It is beside Brautigan's point to complain, that Dreaming fails to reflect the traditional concerns of the genre he so offhandedly imitates. Evil, whether witnessed in pans across blighted urban landscapes or viewed in closeups of the criminal conscience, doesn't fire his imagination. For him, evil presents no problem: Adolf Hitler is a villain in a bad movie, on a par with Ming the Magician; wounds are usually self-inflicted; life is but a dream.
"Maya, illusion, daydreaming: these, and their relation to the vicarious pleasures of thriller-reading, are the source of Brautigan's interest in the genre. Not Philip Marlowe but Shell Scott or something even nearer the aboriginal penny-dreadful is the model he would emulate. His attitude is not so much amusement at the camp excesses of such hack-work but rather bemusement at its pastoral simplicities, at its blissfully ignorant badness. 'Dumb?' he asks his blanded-out brothers there on the beach. 'Boys, you ain't seen nothing yet!'
"And so, as from the id's own pit, there arises the persona of the author of Dreaming of Babylon—not Brautigan, nor yet C. Card, the novel's less-than-cardboard narrator, but the ineffably dopey, possibly meth-drinking cretin whose poverty-stricken imagination is the (imagined) source of this ramshackle mass of bad jokes, stupid ideas, and plain nonsense. Occasionally Brautigan makes a false step and slips into the dreamy, nice-guy, mildly surreal yoke of his earlier fictions, as when C. Card fantasizes a 'cactus fog with 'sharp spines on it,' but these wrong notes are only noticeable in the first few pages.
"Mini-chapter by mini-chapter the mindless tale advances with resolute pointlessness and a total mastery of anticlimax. Brautigan's story resists interpretation as completely as a pile of bricks by Carl André. The book is a vacuous daydream of the same order and worth as the vacuous daydreams about Babylon that beset C. Card. These dreams do him no harm. In fact, they are his primary and most reliable source of pleasure. Such, Brautigan suggests, are the pleasures of fiction, and probably of life."
Feinstein, Elaine. "Fiction." The Times [London], 11 May 1978, p. 10.
Reviews Lancelot by Peter Vansittart, The Stone Door by Leonora Carrington, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
The full text of this review reads, "Perhaps it is fatigued memories of battering my way round the Hayward Gallery that lead me to a certain querulousness in this matter of the fashionably surreal. Everything, from a burlesque thriller to a historical novel is gradually being subsumed to our need for it, as if we were insatiable for any form of magic that can transmute the otherwise ineluctable dinge of Now.
"Take Richard Brautigan first—he's likely to be first off the shelves, anyway. This book, he's on a trip back to the Forties, with a lousy private-eye ruined by an obsessive day-dream of Babylon. Now as Philip Marlowe and Lemmie Caution enriched my early childhood with fairy-tales, I looked coldly upon the genial, cuddly-coated cartoon figure on the front cover, and opened Brautigan with a certain severity.
"Dreaming of Babylon, however, is undoubtedly funny; as long, that is, as the private-eye is trying to bum some bullets for his gun, or picking-up slowly on the clues of a plot that centres on a little body-snatching for a classy lady client. I must also report I enjoyed to the full those poignant moments of imagined phone-calls between the failed private-eye and his unforgiving mother—a far cry, these, from memories of ol' Ma Caution's pithy advice. The only trouble is that the passionate day-dream which has so impeded his whole career, namely Babylon itself, doesn't work. There the fantasy fails. We understand the problem, if only because Walter Mitty suffered it before. But Babylon doesn't hold us."
Flaherty, Joe. "The Sam Spade Caper." The New York Times Book Review, 25 Sep. 1977, Sec. 7, p. 20.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 9. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1978, pp. 123-25.
Fletcher, Connie. "Brautigan, Richard." The Booklist, 15 Nov. 1977, p. 525.
The full text of this review reads, "Brautigan's linguistic antics and gallows humor are extremely apt in his 'perverse mysteries.' Babylon upends the conventional private eye novel. It also wreaks havoc with the line between fantasy and reality. The hapless hero, C. Card, has hit the skids as a private investigator; he spends half his time trying to rustle up some bullets for his gun and the other half resisting the inducements of an imaginary, perfect world. A masterful comedy mixed with pathos."
Grimaud, Isabelle. "Stranger than Paradise." Caliban, no. 23, 1986, pp. 127-135.
Says that an opaque, illusory uncertainty pervades Dreaming of Babylon.
Grimes, Larry E[dward]. "Stepsons of Sam: Re-Visions of the Hard-Boiled Detective Formula in Recent American Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 29, no 3, Autumn 1983, pp. 535-544.
Examines re-visions of the hard-boiled detective formula in novels by three nondetective writers: Jules Feiffer's Ackroyd, Thomas Burger's Who is Teddy Villanova?, and Richard Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon. READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 42. Edited by Daniel G. Marowski and Roger Matuz. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 48-66.
Grove, Lee. "An Alas and Alack for this Babylon." Boston Globe, 6 Nov. 1977, p. A32.
Hedborn, Mark. "Lacan and Postmodernism in Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon." Literature and Film in the Historical Dimension. University Press of Florida, 1994, pp. 101-110.
Says, "a Lacanian reading of the postmodern elements of Dreaming of Babylon seems to confirm through the allegory of a painfully fragmented self that the postmodern self, although often schizophrenic in the way that Fredric Jameson describes, is also potentially highly creative." READ this review.
Hope, Mary. "Dreaming of Babylon." Spectator [London], 22 Apr. 1978, p. 24.
Reviews Yesterday by Sian James, The Stone Door by Leonora Carrington, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "As a newcomer to the Brautigan cult, I can only think that [Dreaming of Babylon] must be a bit of a spare-time exercise: an after-dinner conversational joke which got out of hand. C. Card is an unsuccessful Chandleresque private-eye in 1940s San Francisco, so penniless that he can't afford bullets for his gun, so dreamy that he spends his time fantasising in a life in 596 BC ('I was the most famous private eye in Babylon. I had a fancy office just down from the Hanging Gardens'). Hired to steal a corpse from the city morgue, he ends up with noting except a supernumerary stiff in his fridge.
"Much of the action takes place in the morgue, the cemetery, or the hero's head; either way, the effect is fairly deadly. Brautigan's style depends on the premise that one bad joke deserves another: he sets up what starts off as a respectable one-liner and then kills it stone dead by trying to make it into two. If he'd honed down the cracks, the book would be even shorter than it is, but much funnier. There is not much point in parodying a style unless there is a valid alternative statement to make: this is just a thin idea, made thinner by the disparity between the master's theme and the pupil's variations."
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Howard, Bert. "Brautigan Babylon Kills Private-Eye Mystique." Ottawa Citizen, ***?***.
An unfavorable review. Concludes, "Dreaming of Babylon so obliterates the genre's mystique . . . that it makes you wonder if you can ever read another."
The full text of this review reads, "In Dreaming of Babylon by Richard Brautigan (Beaverbook, $4.45), a money-starved private eye named C. Card fantasizes beautiful secretaries who gaze at him and say, 'You big lug!' as he fights evil in ancient Babylon.
"In reality, in 1942 San Francisco, C. Card can't even afford bullets. Then a blonde beauty hires him to steal a murder victim's body from the morgue. C. Card's ship has come in. It seems.
"Brautigan's frequently funny parody of fiction's private eyes also incorporates science-fiction, sport, adventure, and other pulp-magazine escapist cliches in C. Card's Babylonian fantasies. The way his real case goes, he needs his daydreams.
"Private-eye stories usually leave the fan with a yen for more of the hero. Dreaming of Babylon so obliterates the genre's mystique (not to mention C. Card) that it makes you wonder if you can ever read another, much less another C. Card. The big lug!"
Krim, Seymour. "Brautigan's Mythical Trip into Bogart Country." Chicago Tribune Book World, 25 Sep. 1977, Sec. 7, p 3.
Lee, Hermione. "Curtains." New Statesman, 14 Apr. 1978, p. 500.
Reviews Kalki by Gore Vidal, Yukiko by Macdonald Harris, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan. Compares Brautigan's character/narrator, C. Card in Sombrero Fallout with Raymond Chandler's narrator, Vidal's Kalki, and Harris's Yukiko.
Says "These four narrators are in deep trouble. Victims or witnesses of the most macabre and horrifying possibilities that modern life—particularly American life—allows, they are hanging on like grim death to a sense of themselves. But selfhood is violently at risk in these doom-laden thrillers; there is no room for heroes or heroines, and probably not even for human beings, any more."
[Discusses Vidal's Kalki and Harris's Yukiko.]
"Harris's authenticity and Vidal's grown-up inventiveness make Brautigan look childish. His rules are too restrictive; his convention of negating or parodying all conventions has become tiresomely rigid. This winsome pastiche of Chandler only makes one yearn for Chandler's own solidity of plot and complexity of characters, attributes which a freewheeling minimalist fiction cannot afford. Instead, bijou chapterettes, not long enough to look serious, tell the story strip-cartoon style. Set in San Francisco, 1942, it follows the misfortunes of a hopeless but cute private-eye with no bullets to his gun, unable to concentrate because he's always dreaming of being a champion baseball player in 596 BC, who's employed by a daunting blonde to steal a corpse from a one-legged morgue attendant but is prevented by the ruthless Sergeant Rink, who quells his opponents by shutting them in the morgue ice-box with the stiffs. And so on."
Lemontt, Bobbie Burch. "Dreaming of Babylon." Western American Literature, vol. 13, no. 3, Fall 1978, p. 302.
The full text of this review reads, "Dreaming of Babylon is an amusing concoction of convention and imagination. With the subtitle 'A Private Eye Novel 1942,' one expects a narrative like a Raymond Chandler paperback starring characters wearing trenchcoats. But under this cover one finds instead a lively pastiche of formula and farce which is provocative and contagious.
"On January 2, 1942, Brautigan's seedy, soft-boiled private eye gets both good news and bad news: a war wound hinders his conscription in WW II; a gun without bullets impedes his involvement with a mysterious client. From this ambivalent predicament, C. Card (a.k.a. Eye, Stewmeat) makes his way past a landlady who could win 'first prize in a beauty contest for cement blocks' and onto the streets of San Francisco. As the author's dirty dick slips in and out of the 'genre' and various urban landmarks, he accepts a peremptory offer from a beer-guzzling blonde in a 'Black Cadillac La Salle limousine.' The confusion, chase, and close encounters of the worst goony kind which follow stack the deck against him. Things happen to him: he endures telepathic telephone humiliations from his domineering mother; he has a cup of coffee with a peg-legged keeper of corpses; he is loaned seventy-five cents from a tough cop; he gets jilted for singing Christmas carols. But the lovable, laughable, ludicrous protagonist always has a new deal up his sleeve: dreaming of Babylon.
"In order to cope with a crazy world where ego-enhancement is not easy, Card fantasizes a Manichean comic strip reality. His latest adventures in Babylon, 'Smith Smith versus the Shadow Robots,' concern sleuthing out malign forces who possess mercury crystals. These Babylonian experiences are both 'a delight and a curse' to Brautigan's vulnerable hero. Cardboard and ridiculous, his fantastic formulations leave him in a world where he has one foot already in the grave and only a dead tomato in the fridge.
"Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the author's eighth novel is that one always knows 'whodunit.' Brautigan's style flourishes through Card's point of view. Pert repartees, wisecracks, and 'cute' lines all portray the necessary cockiness and tough jauntiness. Vulgarity and obscenity cartwheel through simple sentences and short chapters. Eccentric plays upon words and incongruous details arise when they are least expected. Brautigan's extravagant tomfoolery with language ingeniously parodies the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction. Both mystery enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike can find this novel entertaining and fast paced reading."
Miclot, James Murray. "Depolitization from Within: Not Taking a Fall with Richard Brautigan." Humanitas, vol. 6, no. 2, 1993, pp. 15-44.
Petticoffer, Dennis. "Richard Brautigan." Library Journal, vol. 102, no. 14, Aug. 1977, p. 1674.
The full text of this review reads, "Skulking through the bizarre underworld on the human consciousness, Brautigan describes a day in the life of private detective C. Card (as in 'Seek Hard?'). The hero is sitting out World War II thanks to an ignominious injury suffered in the Spanish Civil War, when he imprudently planted his posterior on a pistol while answering nature's call. Card is a failure, his attempts to subsist above poverty level constantly interrupted by Walter Mitty-ish daydreams. Hired to steal the body of a murdered prostitute from the local morgue, the hero encounters a host of body-snatchers enlisted to perform the same deed. After a battery of harrowing escapades, Card emerges in possession of the body. Unfortunately, his prize goes unclaimed, and he's left not with a handsome monetary reward, but with the corpse of a beautiful young woman languishing in his refrigerator. Like previous efforts by the author, this is an entertaining, provocative fantasy which should delight and intrigue a whole range of readers."
Steiner, George. "Briefly Noted." New Yorker, 21 Nov. 1977, pp. 230-236.
The full text of this review reads, "It is January 2, 1942, and C. Card [the protagonist of Dreaming of Babylon], the sorriest private eye in San Francisco, is down to his last chance. Dead broke, two months behind on his rent, unable even to buy bullets for his gun, he has one thing to look forward to: a meeting at six o'clock this evening with a mysterious client. All he has to do is keep the hunger pangs down, find some bullets, and stop dreaming of Babylon. Babylon is the fantasy world that C. Card escapes to whenever he can, and dreaming of Babylon is a sure way of missing his stop on the bus, losing touch with reality, and messing up in general. The suspense of waiting for that six o'clock meeting—and then of the tricky assignment that C. Card is given—is as mechanically constructed as a toy train, but that wouldn't be so bad if the payoff weren't so flat. Richard Brautigan has mastered all the forms of children's fiction—the short, easy-to-read sentences and paragraphs and chapters, the light touches of fantasy and humor—and children's fiction for adults is what this pretty skimpy book is all about."
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 9. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1978, pp. 123-25.
Thwaite, Anthony. "Sour Smell of Success." The Observer, 16 Apr. 1978, p. 27.
Reviews Success by Martin Amis, Yukiko by Macdonald Harris, The Nightflower by Sally Rena, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "Having recently seen the place for the first time, I thought for a moment or two that Richard Brautigan's Dreaming of Babylon might give me a new and bizarre insight into the fabled city; but—as I should have expected from earlier Brautigans—no such luck. Here we have the whimsical old drawler at it again, spilling out a trail of goofy inconsequences about a man who plays at being a private detective. For those who delight in this author's strenuously ingratiating facetiousness, another welcome offering; for the rest of us, another piece of inexplicable cultism."
Willeford, Charles. "Mysteries: Vintage Simenon." Miami Herald, 16 Oct. 1977, p. 7E.
Reviews The Iron Staircase and Maigret's Crossing, both by Georges Simenon, Gelignite by William Marshall, Pray To the Hustler's God by Jack Donahue, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "The Dick-and-Jane prose style is undistinguished, and the deadpan narration by the first person hero is humorless. I don't doubt that Brautigan had a good time writing this book, but I had a bad time reading it."
Winks, Robin W. "Robin W. Winks on Mysteries." New Republic, 26 November 1977, pp. 34-37.
Reviews several examples of detective fiction including Not Sleeping, Just Dead by Charles Alverson, Death of an Expert Witness by P. D. James, The Man Without a Name by Martin Russell, The Gone Man by Brad Solomon, Burglars Can't be Choosers by Lawrence Block, Hazell and the Three-Card Trick by P. B. Yuill, The Terrorizers by Donald Hamilton, Rex Stout by John McAleer, The Book of Sleuths by Janet Pate, The Private Lives of Private Eyes and Spies, Crime Fighters, and Other Good Guys by Otto Penzler, The Consul's File by Paul Theroux, Temple Dogs by Robert L. Duncan, Unknown Man No. 89 by Elmore Leonard, and Dreaming of Babylon by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "The latest established writer to try his hand at the private eye novel is Richard Brautigan. His admirers would argue that Dreaming of Babylon isn't a private eye novel at all, despite an explicit statement on the dust jacket to this effect, and as one would expect from the author of Trout Fishing in America, private eye C. Card doesn't prove to be competent, or even real. But he is amusing, and the writing has its unattractive yet effective moments. "God had done him a favor when He stalled his car one rainy night on some railroad tracks just outside of Merced. He had been a traveling salesman: brushes. After the train hit his car they couldn't tell the difference between him and his brushes. I think they buried him with some of his brushes in the coffin, believing they were part of him." Much of it is a parody of the hard boiled: "He looked as if he'd get a lot of pleasure out of going ten rounds with your grandmother and making sure she went the whole distance. Afterwards you could take her home in a gallon jar." Some is irredeemably vulgar: the coffee offered by the morgue attendant tastes "like he got it out of the asshole of one of his corpse friends." Some of it is just right: a cop, not fat, tells a rich lady that if she will tell all he will make it easy on her, and she froths forth with: "Listen, fat cop. First, these handcuffs are too tight. Second, I want a beer. Third, I'm rich and it's already easy for me." But I don't think that Brautigan is likely to come this way again."