Reviews > General Reviews
Many reviews speak to Brautigan's writing, his fictional style, and his place in American literature in a general way. An annotated listing of general reviews of Brautigan and his work is provided here.
"Shadows and Marble: Richard Brautigan." Review of Contemporary Fiction
8(3) Fall 1988: 117-125.
Critical analysis of Brautigan's writing style, saying the appeal of Brautigan as a writer is his effective use of conflict and tension between the factual and the imaginative. Used later in Chapter 8, "Shadows and Marble," of Downstream From Trout Fishing in America: A Memoir of Richard Brautigan
The tension between the two poles of Brautigan's style, the plain and the metaphorical, creates the conflict in his fiction. . . . His style provides what drama there is more often than his characters. His metaphors function as dramatic resolutions, if subversion of common reality with imaginative thought can be called a resolution. The fanciful notion . . . provides the impetus to continue reading, not any drama between the characters.
Says, this effect is carefully developed by Brautigan's use of slightly colloquial style and "the structure of facts to give a neutral tone to his sentences," thus providing a set up for his imaginative metaphors.
His fiction has its own peculiar vision and a sometimes satori-like sharpness. There's a humanity to Brautigan's discoveries that sets them apart from mere humorous writing.
the full text of this review.
Features a photograph by Erik Weber
of Brautigan lounging in his Geary Street, San Francisco, California, apartment.
The full text of this review reads:
After 11 years in the literary underground, Richard Brautigan, 35, has finally surfaced as the guru of a growing collegiate cult that grooves not only on his writing but on his life style and his view of humanity as well. Living as closely as possible to nature, he has retained an unfashionably optimistic opinion of mankind since he left his birthplace in Tacoma, Washington, at 19 and wandered down to San Francisco, a city he has haunted ever since. Most of his years there have been spent panhandling while publishing free folios of what he calls "true underground poetry." Brautigan has tacked to a wall in S. F. home a letter from Hubert Humphrey thanking him for a copy of Please Plant This Book, a collection he published early in his career that consisted of eight packets of seeds, each imprinted with a poem and planting instructions. From 1965 to 1968, his total income was under $7000, but it was during this period that Trout Fishing in America—a deceptively titled, outrageously funny amalgam of picaresque autobiography and homey-hip philosophy—was published, and his quiet life was threatened by the resulting acclaim. Trout Fishing and his two other major works—A Confederate General from Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar, both offering more of the same spaced-out ruminations but with somewhat less charm—have sold over 100,000 copies each. A spoken-word LP looms in Brautigan's near future, along with movies based on his novels, and he has read his works everywhere from San Quentin to Harvard. At Harvard, he passed a bottle around and jumped down from the podium and prodded members of the audience to take turns reading. The evening was brought to a close with an impromptu dance by Brautigan and his friends. [See "Richard Brautigan On Saturday Night" by Jeffrey S. Golden for a review of this reading.] So far, however, Brautigan prefers to avoid the limelight—and he refuses to discuss his new-found renown. But he has often said his work speaks for him and the beginning of one of his short stories reads: "It's really something to have fame put its feathery crowbar under your rock, and then upward to the light release you, along with seven grubs and a sow bug." (204)
Illustrated with a photograph of Brautigan by Erik Weber
Ash, Mel. Beat Spirit: An Interactive Workbook. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1998. 277-278.
Richard Brautigan was yet another link between the fifties and sixties countercultures, and still another suicidal casualty of alcoholism in the eighties. Often called the last of the beatniks due to his young age in the decade of the fifties, he was a fixture in Haight-Ashbury, providing along with Lew Welch and Lenore Kandel an elder-statesmanlike presence in the new paisley Bohemia of the sixties. Although Brautigan is best known for his Trout Fishing in America, his novels and poems are filled with a dry and surreal whimsy that for a time perfectly captured a moment in the gestalt of America's countercultural youth. (277-278)
As part of the book's interactivity, Ash asks readers to fill in entry number 4 of Brautigan's poem "Karma Repair Kit: Items-1-4,"
which, in the poem, is left blank. He concludes saying, "If you can fill out number four, and live out the first three, consider your karma repaired." (278)
Includes Brautigan's collection Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, In Watermelon Sugar
in "A Selected Prophetsography," a listing or works that are an "important representative selection or the most recent collections by the authors" (288).
Anonymous. "Beat Spirit: An Interactive Workbook." Publishers Weekly
244(44) 27 Oct. 1997: 62.
Ash writes knowledgeably about the Beat legacy that extends through the work of writers including Richard Brautigan, Tom Robbins and Jim Carroll to artists and musicians like Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson.
Aguilar, Pablo Molinet. "Lectura de Richard Brautigan [Reading Richard Brautigan]." La Nave 2 October-December 2009: 73-79.
An essay on Brautigan's poetry published in this Mexican literary quarterly. Aguillar deals with the strenghts of Brautigan's poetry: the straightforwardness, the laconism, the surprise and the humor. He also points to the core weakness of Brautigan's poems: that they are mainly devoted to himself.
Auwera, Fernand. "Lucky Punch." Dietsche Warande en Belfort: Tijdschrifit vour Letterkunde, Kunst en Geestesleven (122) 1977: 783-785.
Review of Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan from a Dutch perspective.
Says that rather than being grouped with the Beats, a closer reading of Brautigan's work suggests
a compressed vision of history, in which time doesn't offer any density, or reality. If, in theory, time constitutes one of his works' main themes, it is technically rather abolished. Or, to be more accurate, it is annihilated by writing [through] repition and redundancy.
Ends with Brautigan discussing his writing. Brautigan says he knows his future readers want imagination. "I'm trying, from my own experiences, to give them some."
the full text of this review.
Barth, John. "The Literature of Exhaustion." Atlantic Aug. 1967: 29-34.
Barth argues that contemporary literature has exhausted its traditionally recognized potentials. But Brautigan's work suggests, by its very uniqueness, that literature still offers yet unexploited possibilities.
Jr. "A Ghost from the Sixties: Richard Brautigan, 1935-1984." The Bloomsbury Review
5(5) February 1985: 3, 8.
Illustrated with a drawing of Brautigan by Bonnie Timmons.
Brautigan [captured] the yearning for meaningful connection amid the upheavals of American in the sixties. . . . Brautigan wrote as a sympathetic participant in the events he described. Subjectivity—the whims and notions of a sensitive mind—was his sole perspective; the world began with his conception of it. . . . Rather than reconstructing a linear reality, Brautigan stood the traditional novel on its head by defying its conventions. His plots are hazy and capricious, his characters thin and two-dimensional, his prose slack and meandering. . . . [His novels were] fanciful stories, controlled by the author's whim, in which anything can and usually does occur, or hermetic reveries, as self-contained and open-ended as fairy tales. . . . In his books we get a sense of the individual response to the 1960s, the need to blend fantasy and reality in an effort to create a more palatable world. Reading Brautigan, like getting high, is a way of establishing an alternative reality. . . . Generations from now, if anyone wants to know the particular mindset of a portion of the American population circa 1968, he or she would do well to read Richard Brautigan.
the full text of this review.
Blake, Harry. "American Post-Modernism." Tel Quel 71 /73 (Autumn) 1977: 171-82.
Brautigan is compared to other "post-modern" American writers John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, William Gass, and Jerzy Kosinski. Says "Brautignan" [sic] is a "dreck arranger" who utilizes scenes representing the unedited flow of the mind which follow one another and neutralize one another without logic.
Bryan, Scott, Paul Graham, and John Somer. "Speed Kills: Richard Brautigan and the American Metaphor." Oyez Review 8(2) 1974: 64-72.
Burns, Grant. Librarians in Fiction: A Critical Bibliography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1988. 19-20.
A bibliographic listing of 226 novels, 103 short stories, 12 plays, and 30 secondary sources that feature fictional librarians, each with commentary and/or plot synopsis. Brautigan's The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966
is item twenty on the novels list. Says,
The 31-year-old narrator is the perpetual librarian, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at a curious San Francisco library where people deposit books they have written. . . . The narrator is quiet, a little shy, and possesses a gentle good humor. . . . The novel is light and slight but is redeemed by the librarian's gentle nature and by Brautigan's gift for the occasional nice phrase. (19-20)
Gribben, Alan. "Librarians in Fiction: A Critical Bibliography." Libraries & Culture
35(12) Spring 2000: 381.
Notes that Richard Brautigan is an entry.
Chénetier, Marc. "Harmonics on Literary Irreverence: Boris Vian and Richard Brautigan." Stanford French Review 1(2) Fall 1977: 243-259.
—. "Richard Brautigan, écriveur: Notes d'un Ouvre-Boîtes Critique." Caliban 12 1975: 16-31.
Says that for Brautigan, life, rather than a continuum, is a succession of transient and ephemeral states, and that identity is constantly destroyed and renewed. Says this is called "iDEATH" (the death of the ego) and that it is the foe of "inBOIL" (interior turbulence).
—. "'Bits and Pieces': La Rhétorique du Pararéel Dans l'Oeuvre de Richard Brautigan." Trema 1 1975: 95-131.
Criticism from a French perspective.
Cook, Bruce. The Beat Generation: The Tumultous '50s Movement and its Impact on Today
. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971. 205-208.
Section titled "They Sure Weren't Dancing on the Way Back to the Fairmont Hotel" provides a brief overview of Brautigan's relation to the San Francisco Beat poets and his work as an author in his own right.
[Brautigan's] poems are charming, often witty, sometimes successful-but rather slight. He gets his best effects from those brief, spontaneous bits of word play in which a single idea is twisted into the shape of a poem, almost in the manner of a haiku. . . . There are no books quite like [Brautigan's] and no writer around quite like him—no contemporary, at any rate. The one who is closest is Mark Twain. The two have in common an approach to humor that is founded on the old frontier tradition of the tall story. In Brautigan's work, however, events are given an extra twist so that they come out in respectable literary shape, looking like surrealism. (205, 206)
excerpts from this section pertaining to Brautigan.
David, Christophe. "Brautigan hors-champ." Le Matricule des Anges, 7 April/June 1994.
This review, in French, at the Le Matricule des Anges website
"The Man on the Quaker Oats Box: Characteristics of Recent Experimental Fiction." Georgia Review
26 (Fall) 1972: 297-313.
Discusses Brautigan's works in comparison to other contemporary writers.
Richard Brautigan's fiction shares many of the qualities of his poetry—charm, brevity, whimsy, and in many cases a total inability to leave a residue in the consciousness. His narrative voice, in its matter-of-factness, resembles that of that other Californian, Steinbeck, but lacks the older writer's coherent philosophy and sense of apparent purpose. Yet even in these respects Brautigan's writing seems consistent with that of the more intellectual practitioners of experiment fiction, such as Coover, Gass, Barthelme, and Barth. Moreover, Brautigan writes stories and chapter units of minimal length, like those of W.S. Merwin and Leonard Michaels. In addition, he is accessible on a level just a cut above sentimentality and mass-art: obviously beyond Rod McKuen, but perhaps on a par with Kurt Vonnegut.
Flowers, Helen. "Books for Librarians and Libraries." Emergency Librarian 20(1) September/October 1992: 20.
Fresán Rodrigo. "El hombre que volvió de la muerte: Richard Brautigan publica de nuevo." Radar Libros 12-17 September 2000.
This review at the Radar Libros website
Greenman, Myron. "Understanding New Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies 20(3) Autumn 1974: 307-316.
Discusses theories related to the "mimetic impulse" in light of several writers representing "new fiction." Says,
the plain fact remains, though it seems to be seldom acknowledged, that it is still the concrete detail in new fiction that makes it readable, however devalued, incongruous, or apparently—though only apparently—abandoned
Using The Abortion
as an example, Greenman says,
we are not able to enjoy the book very much, because its slight narrative substance is not compensated by any noteworthy aesthetic, stylistic, psychological, or commentarial innovations or values; but to a slight degree we do find pleasure in it, and despite all of Brautigan's cuteness, we are indebted to his believable presentation of setting, story, and character.
Arlen J. "The Celebration of Solipsism: A New Trend in American Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies
(19) Spring 1973: 5-15.
Explores the shift in emphasis from the environment's controlling power to solipsism (creative adjustment; shaping one's world rather than being controlled by it) in the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Barthelme, William Gass, Robert Coover, and Brautigan. Says Brautigan's work represents the most extreme, but not most effective use of this new vision.
To describe the relationship between an individual and his environment, Perls and Goodman use the phrase "creative adjustment." Implicit in this oxymoron is a tension between the active, dynamic qualities of experience and the more passive, adaptive qualities. The word "creative" mitigates some of the determinism implied by "adjustment"; and "adjustment" holds in check the tendency toward delusion or escapist fantasy. This balance, it seems, is seldom observed in the fiction of the past hundred years. Indeed, this fiction seems characteristically dominated by deterministic preoccupations with traps and mazes, with victim-heroes and anti-heroes, and with overt and disguised polemics on behalf of empiricism and behavioralism. By and large, the dominant stance in American fiction during the past century has been that of the so-called "realist" who has urged his readers to distinguish between self-generated "illusion" and sturdy "reality." According to these realists, one is simply to face "reality" and to avoid "illusion."
excerpts of this article pertaining to Brautigan.
Contemporary Literary Criticism
. Vol. 42. Eds. Daniel G. Marowski and Roger Matuz. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980. 48-66.
Hassan, Ihab. Contemporary American Literature, 1945-1972
. New York: Ungar Publishing Co., 1973. 122, 171.
Lucid, precise, whimsical, idyllic, Brautigan develops a unique fragmentary style. . . . Yet beneath the surface of happy love and naive humor, the reader feels the lurking presence of loss, madness, death.
Hendin, Josephine "Experimental Fiction." Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing. Ed. Daniel Hoffman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. 260, 268.
Novels of passivity refuse to believe in the traditional American values of effort, perseverance, and striving. In Richard Brautigan's lyric stories Revenge of the Lawn (1971) can be found cautionary tales, warnings against trying to be the old-time, hard-working American hero. "Corporal" is a touching account of humiliation at the heart of an American dream of success. A poor schoolboy during World War II yearns to be a general in a paper drive his school organizes like a "military career." He scrounges for scrap after scrap of paper, hoping to bring in enough to spiral from private to general. But after an incredible effort, he finds all his work will make him no more than a corporal. (Only kids whose parents were rich enough to have cars and to know "where there were a lot of magazines" get to be officers.) Crushed and humiliated, he takes his "God-damn little stripes home in the absolute bottom of (his) pocket . . . and enter[s] into the disenchanted paper shadows of America where failure is a bounced check or a bad report card or a letter ending a love affair and all the words that hurt people when they read them."
Suffering makes Brautigan's people gentle and cold. The evanescent In Watermelon Sugar (1968) describes appetitive America as a fantastic ruin where there are mile-high remains of skyscrapers, books, remnants of technological achievements, and ghosts of appetites which do not exist in the new world, iDEATH. This iDEATH is a commune in which the assertive "I," the ego, is subordinated to the harmony of a group in which nobody competes with anyone else, sexual jealousy is taboo, and nights are lit up by sugar lanterns in the shape of a trout and a child's face. Only misfits fall in love or become possessive of a beloved. In Trout Fishing in America (1967) Brautigan's luckiest character is the Kool-Aid wino, a poor kid who is thrilled even by the Kool-Aid he must ration so sparingly that he has to dilute it in a gallon, instead of a pint, of water. The people who survive in Brautigan's books are in control of their appetites but out of control of their illusions, able to make the dream of fullness, sweetness, and peace do the work of reality. Brautigan is a spokesman for the disenchanted, seeking to allay anxiety by blurring the distinctions of status, wealth, and ambition which exist in the real world.
Josephine. Vulnerable People: A View of American Fiction Since 1945
. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 20, 44-50, 217, 224.
Discusses the social, psychological, and political implications of acting in the manner of typical Brautigan characters: gentle, withdrawn, and emotionally distant. Hendin also discusses this idea in her review of Brautigan's Revenge of the Lawn
excerpts from this book pertaining to Brautigan.
Hoffmann, Gerhard. "Social Criticism and the Deformation of Man, Satire, the Grotesque and Comic Nihilism in the Modern and Postmodern American Novel." Amerikastudien [American Studies] 28(2) 1983: 141-203.
Says that "imagination holds sway over language" in Trout Fishing in America
and its clichés and can generate any number of new, fresh situations out of the one by arbitrarily changing its meaning. "Trout Fishing in America" thus stands not only for what "normality" means and connotes, but also for a person, a place, a hotel, a cripple, a costume, a fountain pen, a book. (179)
Says Brautigan further develops this "method of lingual arbitrariness in the direction of a more unobstructed and interconnected representation of a utopian situation" in the novel In Watermelon Sugar
it is a utopian society turned entropic, dominated by the complete stasis of rationality contrasted only with the old eruptive emotional dynamism of love, suffering, violence, etc., which, however, can appear only in deformation. (179)
excerpts from this essay pertaining to Brautigan.
Holden, Jonathan. "Poems Versus Jokes." New England Review 4(3) Spring 1982: 469-77.
Contends that poems summon desirable feelings and glorify them. Jokes tend to condense experiences and offer them as substitute metaphors—especially when they deal with sex. Says,
all of Richard Brautigan's erotic pieces are on the borderline between poems and jokes. [When read on the page they are taken as poems, but] uttered before a live audience, they lose their character of being meditations on the task of love; they become instead thinly veiled boasts, verbal seductions.
excerpts from this essay pertaining to Brautigan.
Horvath, Brooke Kenton.
"Richard Brautigan's Search for Control Over Death." American Literature
57(3) October 1985: 434-455.
[Central to Brautigan's fiction is] death and the anxiety an awareness of death engenders. . . . Death-obsessed, Brautigan's characters find they must dissociate themselves from a culture that both throws death constantly in their paths and fails to give it meaning. These characters typically retreat into private life-enhancing religions, but habitually this ploy does not . . . engage life-and-death fears head on and fruitfully; rather, it intensifies that hopelessness and numbness that makes death so fearsome within the establishment. . . . [Brautigan's] work . . . continues to forward an especially severe critique of American society, one that moves beyond politics into prophecy, implicitly sounding a call for repentance, for a turning from death toward life.
the full text of this review.
Hume, Kathryn. "Brautigan's Psychomachia." Mosaic 34(1) March 2001: 75-92.
Argues that Brautigan can be seen as "an aesthetician and writer, as a conscious artist who used Zen principles rather than simply becoming the victim of psychic furies" (76). Views his writing as
a series of narrative experiments in portraying emotions and in working out the philosophical and political dimensions of certain strong feelings that interested him. The emotions that fascinate him naturally stem from his own experience, by my concern is what he constructs from them artistically. The eleven novels (the last one published posthumously) constitute a series of battlefields in which he sets up emotional conflicts and tries to find narrative forms appropriate to his vision. Hence my term psychomania, for in formalized schema he test certain feelings and kinds of narrative much as medieval writers formalized into allegory the temptations besetting a Christian soul. (76)
—. American Dream American Nightmare: Fiction Since 1960. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. 5, 37, 42, 50, 59-61, 63, 209-213, 218, 268, 272, 283-285.
Explores how estrangement from America has shaped the contemporary fiction of a literary generation Hume calls the Generation of the Lost Dream. Identifies shared core concerns, values, techniques, and differing critiques among nearly one hundred unconnected writers saying they point to a source for recovery that appeals to many of the authors. Makes several mentions of Brautigan and his work as examples, or proof, for her claim.
excerpts pertaining to Brautigan.
Partridge, Jeffrey F. L. "Extreme Specialization" and the Broad Highway: Approaching Contemporary American Fiction." Studies in the Novel
33(4) Winter 2001: 459-472.
Reviews American Dream: American Nightmare—Fiction Since 1960
by Kathryn Hume and Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America
by Patricia P. Chu (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000). Says Richard Brautigan is one of the novelists Hume considers (460).
—. "Vonnegut's Melancholy." Philological Quarterly 77(2) Spring 1998: 221-238.
Says Kurt Vonnegut, Jr's. fiction is based primarily on ideas that approach personal or social problems and his stories are permeated with melancholy humor and the friendly relationship Vonnegut builds with his readers.
Of recent writers, perhaps Richard Brautigan comes closest to Vonnegut in terms of a shared melancholy. Their similarities show up most obviously in So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away and Deadeye Dick, both books about boys who shoot someone accidentally and have their lives ruined as a result. Most of Brautigan's characters are wispy and low-key, and he too introduces spacey and fantastic elements.
Where Brautigan and Vonnegut part ways is in their humor, and this humor is probably the factor that has made Vonnegut so popular throughout his career. (235-236)
Jeffryes, Katie. "Time and the Pastoral Lifestyle."
An essay written 30 October 2002 during Jeffryes' junior year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now available online. Compares the search for "the mythological pastoral lifestyle" by the narrators in Henry David Thoreau's Walden
and Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America
. Concludes that,
because of the time period in which Walden is set, Thoreau is able to achieve his dream to a greater extent than Brautigan. Their views regarding the importance of the past are similar, but the outlook of the future differs in each case. In the end both come to terms with the time in which they live, Thoreau with a message of hope and inspiration, Brautigan with a letter of condolences mourning the "passing of Mr. Good," representing the very lifestyle for which he searches. Thoreau finds his ideal pastoral lifestyle, but Brautigan's narrator becomes entangled in the myths of American idealism and regresses to the life he knew before his search.
the full text of this essay.
This essay at Jeffryes' website
Johnson, Judith. "Rhetoric and Anti-Rhetoric: The Poetry of Richard Brautigan." St. Andrews Review 22 1981.
Revised from a lecture delivered at Festival of British and American Poets, SUNY Stony Brook, NY, 1978.
Karl, Frederick R. American Fictions 1940-1980. New York: Harper & Row, 1983. xii, 27, 42, 64, 70-71, 384, and 394 [sic; should be 393].
Brautigan is discussed in the context of other American fiction writers. Review of Trout Fishing in America on pages 70-71. Mentioned as a minimalist on 384.
Robert. "Williams, Brautigan, and the Poetics of Primitivism." Chicago Review
27(1) 1975: 47-57.
Compares Brautigan's poetry to William Carlos Williams' in terms of their shared "primitivist poetics."
"A Cult Figure in the 1960s, Brautigan Has Successfully Moved into a New Era." Kansas City Star
21 December 1980: 1, 12D.
A companion piece to Kline's review of The Tokyo-Montana Express
, written following one of Brautigan's promotional interviews.
Kleinzahler, August. "No Light on in the House." London Review of Books 14 December 2000: 21-22.
Provides a retrospective examination of Brautigan's work leading up to a review of Revenge of the Lawn
. Concludes by saying,
With Brautigan, one sees the fissures, the slapdash detail, the failures of nerve and, of course, the steep decline just at the point when it should all have been going the other way. Brautigan was damaged goods, psychologically, from the get-go. (22)
Klinkowitz, Jerome. The Self-Apparent Word. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. 32-33, 64-65.
[Brautigan is a master of] stretching metaphors to incredible lengths between tenor and vehicle . . . [so that the] original object from the world is lost, to be replaced by something made of its author's language.
—. "Brautigan, Richard." Academic American Encyclopedia. 21 vols. Danbury, CT: 1981. Vol. 3, 458.
Poet and novelist Richard Brautigan, b. Tacoma, Wash., Jan. 30, 1935, is identified with the counterculture movement in San Francisco during the 1960s. His Trout Fishing in America (1967) and The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster (1968) feature witty dislocations of common perceptions related by a genuine, unassuming, offbeat narrator. In 1974 he began publishing satirical novels, including a western, a detective story, and a mystery.
—. The American 1960s: Imaginative Acts in a Decade of Change. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980. vii, 34, 41-46, 49, 55, 57-58.
Says Brautigan draws the larger aesthetic of his poetry from San Francisco's "most vital artistic period, just as the Beat movement turned into the Haight-Ashbury 'hippie' culture of the 1960s (and before the national media exploited it and diluted its substance as a native community phenomenon)" (34) and as the "conservativism of theme and form in fifties fiction" [gave way] to the "success of topically radical and structurally innovative books by Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and Donald Barthelme which closed the decade" (vii). This milieu became the basis for so much of what was adopted as sixties culture and so Brautigan's "poetry is one of the very best indices to the aesthetic spirit of the times" (34).
the excerpts pertaining to Brautigan.
—. "Avant-Garde and After." The Practice of Fiction in America: Writers from Hawthorne to the Present. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1980. 8, 85, 117.
Notes Donald Barthelme and Brautigan as writers of mature innovative fiction whose work takes "the commong reader's familiar notions about language (from television, advertising, and vernacular speech) and exploit[s] their objecthood" (8). In his discussion of John Updike, says Americans had read little Brautigan at the time Updike pubilshed his first book in 1958 (85). In the Epilogue, devotes one paragraph to Brautigan and Trout Fishing in America
. This one paragraph reads:
There are several strategies by which the writer can fix his or her action (and hence the reader's attention) on the page, making the words hold fast to their created image. A favorite technique is the comically overwrought metaphor, which in the very distance between its tenor and vehicle creates a mimetically unbridgeable gap, closeable only by the reader's imagination which appreciates how ridiculous the implied comparison is. In the 1960s Richard Brautigan was the master of this technique. His Trout Fishing in America tosses such metaphors at the reader like one-line jokes. A bedridden character lies in "a tattered revolution of old blankets" (p. 8), grass turns "flat tire brown" through the summer "and stayed that way until the rain, like a mechanic, began in the late autumn" (p. 20), and trout wait in streams "like airplane tickets" (p. 78). Because of their exotic and self-consciously fantastical nature, these phrases can only be accepted as metaphors, as artifacts designed by the writer not for referential value (mechanics, revolutions, and plane tickets have little to do with the action in Trout Fishing in America) but as objects in themselves, items crafted by the author for our imaginative delight. (117)
"Avant-Garde and After." Sub-Stance
27 1980: 125-138.
Includes the same one-paragraph reference to Brautigan as above.
—. Vonnegut in America. New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1977. 63.
Brautigan mentioned with other modern writers in terms of the difficulty they encounter with the "critical community."
—. Literary Disruptions: The Making of a Post-Contemporary American Fiction. Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1975. 2, 7, 20-22, 51, 61, 98, 169, 187.
an excerpt from the Prologue.
Kraft, Werner. "Zweimal [Twice] Richard Brautigan: I. Ein Gedicht-scheinbar einfach [A Poem—Apparently Simple]." Merkur (288) 26 April 1972: 395-96.
Says that a close reading of Brautigan's poem "April 7, 1969" [from Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt] refutes contentions that corruptions exerted by advertising and politics on language lead to a certain distrust of the expressive and definitory capacity of language. Kraft finds this poem artistically effective.
Kušnír, Jaroslav. "Richard Brautigan's Exiled Worlds (A Confederate General from Big Sur, The Abortion and In Watermelon Sugar)." Studia Philologica 7 (2000): 69-77.
Argues that the protagonists in A Confederate General from Big Sur, The Abortion and In Watermelon Sugar share three common traits: their rejection or neglect of the contemporary society's materialistic values; their alienation, separation and escape from this society; and their establishment of an alternative way of existence and its certain idealization representing an approach to and vision of the world different than the official and institutionalized. Investigates the manifestation of these common features in the three novels, and Brautigan's representation of society and alternative "exiled worlds." Says A Confederate General from Big Sur celebrates physical and mental freedom and independence, The Abortion the marginalized, literary art and creativity, and In Watermelon Sugar imagination and fantasy. Kušnír is a faculty member at the University of Prešov, Slovakia.
Feedback from Jaroslav Kušnír
I highly value your bibliographical work on Brautigan because I still think he is quite a neglected author in the USA.
—. "Traveling, Displacement and Romantic Identity in Brautigan's Novels 'A Confederate General from Big Sur' 'The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966' and 'The Tokyo-Montana Express'." Teacher Training Curriculum Innovation Department of English Language and Literature, Presov University, Slovak Republic (1998): 68-73.
Le Vot, André. "New Modes of Storytelling in Recent American Writings: The Dismantling of Contemporary Fiction." Les Américanistes: New French Criticism on Modern American Fiction. Eds. Ira and Christiane Johnson. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1978. 114, 115, 116, 118, 120-121, 125.
Reprises much of Le Vot's article "Disjunctive and Conjunctive Modes in Contemporary American Fiction" (see below).
excerpts of this chapter pertaining to Brautigan.
—. "Disjunctive and Conjunctive Modes in Contemporary American Fiction." Forum 14(1) Spring 1976: 44-55.
Notes the growth of new, experimental fiction incorporating new modes of perception rather than perpetuating traditional forms and idealogies thought irrelevant to a new consciousness. Two main paths are noted in this growth: "a new grotesque" (which Le Vot calls "the disjunctive mode") and "a new baroque" ("the conjunctive mode") (47). Both disjunctive and conjunctive writing can be anlayzed with regard to representation, narration, and diction. In the disjunctive mode, representation is the vignette, the outline, sketchy and impersonal. The conjunctive mode contrasts this bareness with abundance. Disjunctive narration is "fragmented into practicality autonomous units" (47) while conjunctive narration is noted for its globality. Disjunctive diction often involves the juxtaposition of independent clauses to "form a long sentence without constituting an organic whole" (50) while in the conjunctive mode one might note abundance and hyperbole. Utilizes brief examples from Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster
and Trout Fishing in America
to place him and his writing within the disjunctive mode. Concludes saying
Taken singly, the disjunctive imagination is grotesque in its emphasis on distance and flatness and distortion, whereas the conjunctive imagination is baroque in its insistence on organicism, movement, convergence of initially antagonistic elements.
excerpts of this essay pertaining to Brautigan.
Legler, Gretchen. "Brautigan's Waters." College English Association Critic 54(1) Fall 1991: 67-69.
Brautigan's dissonant voice is partly evident in the way he writes about water. . . . Brautigan's account . . . deromanticizes the water as pure and untouchable and also celebrates the sexual . . . within us. . . . Brautigan's waters are full of slime, silt, and sewage. There is little glory in the polluted landscape he writes of. . . . Brautigan's strength, and the element that makes his text a crucial one in any discussion of American nature writing, is that he represents nature differently. (67-68)
the full text of this review.
Lewis, Peter. "Faces of Fiction." Stand 19(4) 1978: 66-71.
Reviews The Face of Terror
by Emanuel Litvinoff, Getting Through
by John McGahern, and Willard and His Bowling Trophies
, Sombrero Fallout
, and Dreaming of Babylon
by Brautigan. The portion dealing with Brautigan reads,
It is easier to understand why Richard Brautigan became a cult figure than why he has remained one. The novelty, charm and wit of his early work were refreshing, especially in the context of American fiction, since here was an innovative writer with a distinctive offbeat imagination who was not trying to compete with [Saul] Bellow, [John] Barth, [Joseph] Heller or [Thomas] Pynchon, not trying to write the Great Serious Comic Epic in Prose of some other typically American leviathan. In art, small is often much more beautiful than big. Yet very enjoyable as some of Brautigan's novels are, can he bear the strain of the heavy scholarship being erected on his slight oeuvre? Butterflies are best left to fly around in the open air instead of being fixed and formulated on pins in museum cases. Like most cult figures, Brautigan has been the victim of his admirers, with the result that even his feeblest books have received rave reviews. Only totally misplaced devotion could have led to the critical praise for his "Gothic Western," The Hawklline Monster, a trite fable on the Frankenstein theme couched in a mainly unfunny Gothic burlesque and replete with cheap, instant surrealism. His three novels since then, organized in his familiar mini-chapter way, consist of two interwoven narratives, although in Dreaming of Babylon the second one is decidedly intermittent. All three deal with the sine qua nons of contemporary literature, sex, and violence, but it is Willard and his Bowling Trophies that comes closest to being a parody of sexploitation commercial fiction, with Bob and Constance desperately and not very successfully trying to enliven their restricted sex life by playing "the Story of O game," complete with bondage, gagging and flagellation. The other strand of the novel concerns the Logan brothers' attempt to recover their stolen bowling trophies and to revenge themselves bloodily on the thieves. Brautigan is presumably trying to make serious points about American society—one of the epigraphs is Senator Church's "This land is cursed with violence"—but his amoral flippancy and detachment trivialise the themes.
In Sombrero Fallout, sex is present in the framing narrative in which a humorous writer sadly recollects his affair with a Japanese girl who has left him, while the fantastic story that writes itself in his waste-paper basket after he has abandoned it is about the ease with which violence can escalate from a minor incident to communal madness and slaughter. This fable is the best thing Brautigan has done for some time, but by presenting it as an extended sick joke he again trivialises his subject, virtually turning it into fun. Fantasy can be used to heighten the horror and menace of violence, but Brautigan's fantasy, while bringing out the logic of lunacy, is essentially anodyne. The farce fails to be savage. Farce, decidedly non-savage, is never far away in Dreaming of Babylon, a "Private Eye Novel 1942," in which Brautigan has one eye on [Dashiell] Hammett and [Raymond] Chandler and is obviously playing games with the conventions of their types of fiction. Sternian subversion of novelistic realism has been an important feature of modernist and post-modernist fiction, but it has now degenerated into facile modishness. Brautigan's transformation of the private-eye novel into burlesque terms is, perhaps, as much nostalgic as subversive, but it does have the effect of belittling the social comment of more serious writers of the genre like Chandler, and puts nothing in its place but easy laughs. Violence seems something almost unreal that happens in books or on the screen. As for Brautigan's penniless and unsuccessful invesitgator, C. Card, he is a parody of figures like Philip Marlowe who tries to escape the misery of his existence in a most non-Marlovian way by creating a utopian dream world, Babylon, to which he can retreat. A comic refurbishing of Chandlerian fiction could have considerable satirical potential, but Brautigan settles for an entertaining romp. To describe him as an entertainer or lightweight is, of course, heretical, considering his prestige in academe, but he now seems to be writing his own kind of pop-art pot-boiler, nihilistic at heart. His popular success seems to have stunted the development of his not inconsiderable talent.
Loewinsohn, Ron. "Brautigan Was A Brilliant Mixer of Dissimilar Images and Ideas." San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle 28 October 1984: B2.
Written just after his death, this article attempts to place Brautigan and his works within the larger context of American literature. Loewinsohn was Brautigan's friend and fellow poet in San Francisco during the 1960s. Says,
At its best, Brautigan's style could discover and illuminate the contradictions of our world that often escape our notice in a manner that was at once startling and compelling.
the full text of this review.
. "After the (Mimeograph) Revolution." TriQuarterly
18 Spring 1970: 221-236.
Within the context of discussing the success of various small presses, this article mentions the collection of Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, In Watermelon Sugar. Says Trout Fishing in America is "one of the funniest books you will ever read," The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster "collects most of the poems Brautigan has written and published over the past ten years," and that In Watermelon Sugar is a peculiar book because "the surface of the novel is gentle, even banal, but under that surface lurk predictability and repression [and] self-repression." Also discusses Brautigan's style of poetry saying his "poems are either very clever or very sentimental." Brautigan "does not seem to have much sense of the possibilities the line proposes, so that poems often seem like one-liner jokes chopped up into verse." Defines Brautigan's poetry as a "closing off." Says "what Brautigan leaves outside the door of classification is any acknowledgement of the on-going-ness of things, and of himself. You finish one poem and go on to the next because the poems don't resonate beyond the final (and final-sounding) line."
the portion of this article pertaining to Brautigan.
Lorberer, Eric. "Richard Brautigan: A Millennium Paper Airplane." Rain Taxi 5(3) Fall 2000 (#19): 16-18.
Following Brautigan's technique in the story "The World War I Los Angeles Airplane" of listing 33 reasons for thinking about what death means, Lorberer provides a fairly comprehenisve review of Brautigan and his work. His conclusion:
I have been trying to show that Richard Brautigan was a postmodernist of incredible invention, deploying sophisticated rhetorical tropes with innate mastery. . . . Brautigan created unique worlds in his deceptively simple writings.
the full text of this review.
Maguire, James H. "Stegner vs. Brautigan; Recapitulation or Deconstruction?" The Pacific Northwest Forum 11(2) Spring 1987: 23-28.
Beginning with Wallace Stegner's denegration of Brautigan as a Western writer trying to be a Modernist (Stegner and Richard W. Etulain. Conversations with Wallce Stegner on Western History and Literature. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983. 138-139), Maquire investigates whether Brautigan's work should be admitted to the Western canon. Uses the three main modernist traits Virginia V. Hlavsa identifes as characteristics of William Faulkner's works: "the practice of building on older works," and organizing a work "by external patterns or ordering structures"; "fragmentation and distortion"; and "the ironic mode" ("The Mirror, the Lamp, and the Bed: Faulkner and the Modernists" American Literature 57 1985: 23-26) as the basis for the decision.
the full text of this review.
Cheryl. "Bloomsbury Comes to Big Sky, and the New Rocky Mountain High is Art." People Weekly
November 3, 1980: 26-31.
Talks about the actors, writers, and artists living in Paradise Valley, Montana, who where Brautigan's neighbors. Includes a photograph of Brautigan and Russell Chatam fishing.
McDermott, James Dishon. "Richard Brautigan's Minimal Style: Gentleness, Emotive Function, and the Problematic of Selfhood." Austere Style in Twentieth-Century Literature: Literary Minimalism. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon Press 2006: 2,12, 57-86.
the full text of excerpts from this essay pertaining to Brautigan.
. Postmodernist Fiction
. New York: Methuen, 1987. 67, 76, 73, 110, 136-137, 151, 153, 156, 173, 190, 207, 213.
excerpts pertaining to Brautigan.
Second issue of a independent music magazine from the United Kingdom. First issue published in August 1988.
A rambling rant on Brautigan and his writing. Includes a photograph by Edmund Shea
of Brautigan and Beverly Allen.
the full text of this review.
"'Debauched by a book' Benjamin Franklin, Richard Brautigan, and The Pleasure of the Text
." California History
Spring 2000: 10-17, 82.
Draws from the life and work of Benjamin Franklin and Roland Barthes' Pleasure of the Text
to position Brautigan as an author who explores "Americanness." Says Brautigan understands Franklin's real legacy "which ultimately is not an attitude about productivity, but about self-presentation" (12). Argues that Barthes' notion of novels as constructed from fragments is a good lens through which to examine Brautigan's writing. Says that despite a lack of critical acclaim,
a close look at Brautigan's work shows its sophistication . . .. Although "whimsical" is the predominant adjective used by reviewers, and his novels are usually seen as "gentle" or "offbeat," some critics have recognized the astonishing amount of loss, decay, and destruction his works contain (11-12). . . . It is Brautigan's own apparent naiveté that has often removed him from serious critical consideration. His persona, the presentation of himself on each book cover, staring out at the reader from behind wire-rimmed glasses, is one of innocence. . . . The Author is a constructed identity. Brautigan is as unmoving, statuesque, and iconic in the photo on Trout Fishing in America as the metal Franklin behind him (13).
excerpts from this review pertaining to Brautigan.
Mills also wrote Reading Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America
"How Hippies Got Hooked on Trout Fishing in America." The Times Higher Education Supplement
[London] 16 November 1984: 12.
Discusses The Tokyo-Montana Express
, In Watermelon Sugar
, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away
, and Trout Fishing in America
Brautigan's best novel is almost certainly his second, Trout Fishing in America. . . . Brautigan's "zen" prose did much to endear him . . . to the hippie generation of the late 1960s and early 1970s. . . . Brautigan had always been a highly literary author but his interest in genre soon lapsed into a kind of formula writing. . . . He relied more and more on pastiche. As with many popular writers, his success became a barrier to understanding. Only Tony Tanner in England and Marc Chénetier in France gave him extended attention. The majority of critics mistook his economy of means and minimal style for slightness, his humour and playfulness for irresponsibility. In reality, his books are particularly sombre, centering on decay, disfigurement and violence.
the full text of this review.
Murphy, Patrick J. "The Price of Fame: Two Instructive Accounts." Pulse Literary Magazine. 21 October 2003.
An online literary journal. Murphy compares James Gould Cozzens and Brautigan and how each suffered as a result of their fame as writers.
excerpts from this review pertaining to Brautigan.
This article at the Pulse Literary Journal website
Nemoianu, Anca. "Richard Brautigan." Secolul 20(2) ***Date?*** 1973: 161-63.
A portrait of Brautigan that attempts both to be true to the whimsical atmosphere of his work and to communicate its literary value. Wonders whether American critics value Brautigan enough and for the right reasons, i.e. beyond his unique authorial character and writerly style. Focuses on Trout Fishing in America and In Watermelon Sugar, in which is seen "the myth of a long lost America" and "the pleasures offered by a simple and peaceful life." Compares Brautigan to Ernest Hemingway's love of life, Mark Twain's childlike humor, and John Steinbeck's love of California's Pacific coast. Places Brautigan somewhere "between the Beat generation and the 'love' generation." Describes two camps of critics, one which laughs uproariously while reading but does not understand anything, and another which reads Brautigan, paradoxically, too closely to find any sign of mature literature. Those few critics in the land between see the mastery of Brautigan's style and his concentration on a specific theme: "man's destructive impulses in opposition to nature's undisturbed rhythms."
The New Consciousness. Ed. Albert J. La Valley. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop Publishers, 1972. 329-331.
[Brautigan's] novels are poetic novels, filled with vivid and often chance metaphors, and rich images. They celebrate, in the spirit of [William Carlos] Williams, the Beat poets, and [Allen] Ginsberg, innocence, romance, and ceremony in the most commonplace and often mundane acts. . . . Nevertheless, on balance, fantasy . . . predominates over reality . . . [it is] the wedding of fantasy and reality, the growing accommodation to a complex world. . . . But there are disturbing implications which another novelist might have followed up psychologically. . . . Brautigan need not follow through psychologically, but he should not let his problems lapse and settle for mere wonder. In much of his later work he does just that, keeping his world far removed from this one. [His writing seems to suggest] life as sugar coating, a vision more worthy of Rod McKuen than of Richard Brautigan.
"The Poetry of Richard Brautigan." Windless Orchard
(14) 1973: 17, 48-50.
the full text of this review.
See also Novak's entries in Reference Guide to American Literature
and Dictionary of Literary Biography
Palo, Brenda M. "Melancholia and the Death Motif in Richard Brautigan's Short Fiction." The Postmodern Short Story: Forms and Issues. Eds. Farhat Iftekharrudin, Joseph Boyden, Mary Rohrberger, and Jaie Claudet. Westport, CN: Praeger Publishers, 2003. 8-11, 185-202.
Stems from Palo's dissertation on melacholia and death in the literature of Franz Kafka, Marie Redonnet, and Richard Brautigan, employing the critical writings of Walter Benjamin and Julia Kristeva.
the full text of this review.
"Introduction" by Iftekharrudin includes a brief discussion of Brautigan's "fictional innovation" as a short story writer (pages 8-11).
excerpts from this introduction pertaining to Brautigan.
Pérez Gallego, Cándido. "Ultima narrativa norteamericana." [Recent North-American Narratives.] Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 411 September 1984: 137-147.
Says Brautigan develops the theme of returning to Acadia, the natural world, in Trout Fishing in America and In Watermelon Sugar and then explores this theme in later novels (144).
—. "Heroe y Estilo en la Novela Norteamericana Actual." [Heroes and Style in the Contemporary American Novel.] Insula [Revista de Letres y Ciencias Humanas] 39(449) April 1984: 1, 12.
Says that the terror of confronting nature and not having anything to say to it, an unreachable paradise, is a theme that Brautigan repeats in Trout Fishing in America.
Pétillon, Pierre-Yves. "Des Fjords Pluvieux . . . Du Nordouest . . ." Critique: Revue Géneéale des Publications Français et Étrangères. 31(338) 1975: 688-695.
—. "Lieux Américains: Richard Brautigan." Critique: Revue Géneéale des Publications Francçis et Etrangères. December 1972: 1054-73.
Pettersson, Bo. "The Geography of Time Remembered: Richard Brautigan's Autobiographical Novels." Helsinki English Studies, Volume 3, 2004.
Discusses the spational and chronological coordinates in Brautigan's "autobiographical novels": Trout Fishing in America
, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away
, and An Unfortunate Woman
. Concludes "the referential and the metafictional are part of Brautigan's strategy of meticulously recording his life and writing, which can ultimately be viewed as his central survival strategy devised against his own death. . . . [I]t was in part by carefully recording and reflecting on the spatial and chronological coordinates of his life that Brautigan . . . was able to survive for so long, despite himself."
This article at the Helsinki English Studies website
Pincus, Robert L.
"Hooked on Brautigan: 'Trout Fishing in America' Author Ripe for Rediscovery." The San Diego Union-Tribune
24 April 1994: E3.
After the first sentence noting Peter Eastman
changing his name to Trout Fishing in America, the rest of this article reviews Brautigan's life and works. Concludes saying Brautigan's books "deserve to endure."
the full text of this article.
This article at the San Diego Union-Tribune website
Feedback from Robert Pincus
Writing the story was an opportunity to reread all the books by Brautigan I had read and read others I hadn't. At that time, I also thoroughly researched the available scholarship—which would have been a lot easier if I had been able to turn to your website at the time.
Pincus, art critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune
, also wrote "Sophisticated Innocence: DeLoss McGraw Reveals Essential Affinities between Joseph Cornell, Lewis Carroll, Richard Brautigan and Himself," the essay for the catalog accompaning an art exhibition by DeLoss McGraw entitled "Innocence: In Response to the Works of Joseph Cornell, Lewis Carroll, and Richard Brautigan."
Püetz, Manfred. "Richard Brautigan: Pastorals of and for the Self." The Story of Identity: American Fiction of the Sixties. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1979.
Examines, from a German perspective, Brautigan's concern with the place of the individual in America and points out parallels with the Transcendentalists.
Reprinted(?): München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1987: 105-129.
—. "Transcendentalism Revived: The Fiction of Richard Brautigan." Occident (8) Spring 1974: 39-47.
Though concealed by blithe indifference, carelessness, and ostentatious flippancy, a secularized adn diluted version of Transcendentalism is discernible in the works of Richard Brautigan.
the full text of this review.
Ring, Kevin. "Richard Brautigan Returns." Beat Scene 35 **?**: 34-36.
Beat Scene magazine website
Riedel, Cornelia. Zur Dichotomischen Amerika- konzeption bei Richard Brautigan ["America, More Often Than Not, Is Only a Place in the Mind."]. Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1985.
Examination of Brautigan from a German perspective.
Rosselli, Aldo. "Richard Brautigan Piccolo Eroe della Controcultura." Nuovi Argomenti 23/24 1971: 46-50.
Rumaker, Michael. Robert Duncan in San Francisco. San Francisco: Grey Fox Presss, 1996. 37, 61.
Originally published by Robert Bertholf in Credences
5/6 Mar.1978. A memoir of poet Robert Duncan in San Francisco in 1957. Says,
poetry was read by Joanne Kyger, Jack Spicer, Ebbe Borregaard, John Weiners, Robert Duncan, Philip Lamantia, Richard Brautigan, George Stanley, Tom Field, Nemi Frost-Hansen, Harold Dulll, etc. (37)
at the Clay Street apartment of Joe and Carol Dunn on Sundays.
Includes Brautigan [misspelled "Braughtigan"] in the "young folk" of the San Francisco poetry scene in 1958 (61).
Collopy, Trisha. "Robert Duncan in San Francisco." Lambda Book Report
5(7) January 1997: 22.
Rumaker moved to San Francisco in 1956, shortly after his first meeting with Duncan. He found a lively arts community that supported writers Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, Richard Brautigan and Denise Levertov, among others.
"The Vault of Language: Self-Reflective Artifice in Contemporary American Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies
20(3) Autumn 1974: 349-357.
an excerpt from this review.
Neil. "Richard Brautigan and the Modern Pastoral." Modern Fiction Studies
19 (Spring) 1973: 109-125.
Siegel, Mark. "Contemporary Trends in Western American Fiction." A Literary History of the American West. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987. 1182-1201.
Sponsored by The Western Literature Association.
[I]t is Richard Brautigan who bridges the gap between Pynchon’s pessimistic interpretation of western archetypes and [Tom] Robbins’s optimistic assertion of the western spirit. At least geographically a western writer of fiction and poetry, Brautigan has written a variety of novels that take place in the West and at least two that deal with themes that are typically western. Both A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964) and Trout Fishing in America (1967) deal with the attempts of characters to rediscover the lost promises, either ideal or historical, of pastoral America. The title character of A Confederate General from Big Sur is Lee Mellon, an "expatriate" Southern explorer seeking new freedom in the California wilderness. Brautigan describes the American Dream as a nightmare, and implies that the reason for this turn of events is that the American people, like Mellon, are greedy, cruel, con artists who plunder and pollute nature. Trout Fishing in America is a metaphorical excursion into the myth of American pastoralism. The trout streams that might promise the literal fisherman his reward are now plundered, polluted, or closed off, but, Brautigan suggests, America "is often only a place in the mind," and its imaginative reality is still potent and promising. Brautigan does not explore compromises that must be made between spiritual needs and material reality, as so many traditional Westerns do. Rather he presents the material impossibility of literally reliving the dream of pastoral America, the frustration and corruption that result from trying to, and the possibility—or even, perhaps, the necessity—of creating imaginative alternatives that will satisfy our spiritual needs. Like Robbins, Brautigan in his later works seems to have fallen into somewhat formulaic expression of what were once original ideas.
This essay at the A Literary History of the American West website
Seinfelt, Mark. "Richard Brautigan (1935-1984)" Final Drafts: Suicides of World-Famous Authors. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999. 393-394.
Short discussions of more than fifty authors who committed suicide, often including their final notes or letters. Provides brief background information for Brautigan.
the full text of this essay.
Carroll, Mary. "Final Drafts: Suicides of World-Famous Authors." Booklist
96(1) 1 September 1999: 58.
Says Brautigan is briefly discussed.
Sherwin, Judith Johnson. "Rhetoric and Anti-Rhetoric." St. Andrews Review 22 1981: 55-59.
Argues, using Brautigan's poem "Third Eye" as an example, the necessity of rhetoric, structure, form, and artifice in poetry.
the full text of this essay.
Simony, Maggy, ed. The Traveler's Reading Guide. Revised, Expanded Edition. New York, Freelance Publications, 1987. 577, 584, 685, 747.
Includes The Abortion, Dreaming of Babylon, The Tokyo-Montana Express, and The Hawkline Monster in "ready-made reading lists for the armchair traveler."
Steele, Judy. "Brautigan: Success Has Drawbacks." Idaho Statesman 16 November 1980, Sec. D: 1.
Discusses Brautigan's thoughts about his writing, and his advice to writers: "Don't look back. The most exciting novel is the next one."
Stephenson, Gregory Kent. "Broken-Hearted American Humorist: Richard Brautigan Reconsidered." The Irregular Quarterly 3(3) 1987: 64-68.
Reprinted: The Signal 1(2) 1988: 28-30.
Says Brautigan's writing style and choice of themes is most closely comparable to that of Ernest Hemingway. The central theme of both Hemingway and Brautigan is confrontation with and resistance to the Void,
the universe perceived as nothingness, as chaos, without purpose or meaning, and the world conceived as a place of violence, cruelty and destruction, inevitable decay, irresistible deterioration and irredeemable loss; the world viewed as a place of terror, horror, pain, and sorrow, of empty life and empty death. Although neither author refers directly to this vision of the Void, it is the unseen, unspoken essence of their art. Hemingway's strategy to resist the Void was courage, "grace under pressure." Brautigan's response is imagination, the invention of an environment in defiance of space and time. (28-29)
Tracks Brautigan's success dealing with the Void through several novels. Concludes by saying,
Richard Brautigan deserves to be reconsidered, to be rediscovered. He is an important voice in our literature, and innovative and original writer who recorded an eccentric and essential vision of the world. The best of his writing will surely endure (30).
the full text of this review.
Feedback from Gregory Stephenson
I teach American literature and have sometimes had the pleasure of teaching Richard Brautigan. My compliments on your excellent bibliography! I enjoyed it and find it useful.
"Scheherazade Runs Out of Plots, Goes on Talking; The King, Puzzled, Listens: An Essay on New Fiction." TriQuarterly
26 (Winter) 1973: 332-363.
Discusses Richard Brautigan, John Barth, Robert Coover, and Donald Barthelme calling them writers of "new fiction" because
recent fiction no longer orients itself according to its own relations to the modernist masters and... this sense of discontinuity with the dominant figures of modernism is one of the few qualities that unites new fiction."
—. "Naive Narration: Classic to Post-Modern." Modern Fiction Studies 23(4) 1977-78: 531-542.
Says Brautigan practices "naive narration"—a simple and immature perspective without the intrusion of a matured, distanced, authorial voice. The appeal of this naive narration may lie in its recognition of vulnerability and openness.
Anything by Brautigan suggests further possibilities for naive narration, as well as further risks, an openness and tenderness to experience rare in prose fiction, the risks being an arch, precious, cloying quality.
Sugiura, Ginsaku. "Sonzai no Jokon kara Sonzai Jitai e: Richard Brautigan ni tsuite." [From Condition of Existence to Existence Itself.] Eigo Seinon [The Rising Generation] 120 1975: 450-52.
Tony. "Fragments and Fantasies." City of Words: American Fiction 1950-1970
. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. 393, 406-415.
Analyzes A Confederate General from Big Sur
, Trout Fishing in America
, and In Watermelon Sugar
, Brautigan's first three novels. Analyzes Brautigan's use of language and the liberation of fantasy. Compares Brautigan's writing to that of Donald Barthelme. In his conclusion, titled "Fragments and Fantasies," Tanner examines "the ways in which Barthelme and Brautigan react to the patterned condition of modern life which has been so variously written about in the last two decades" (393). Says Brautigan, like Barthelme, uses fragment and fantasy.
an excerpt from the conclusion: "Fragments and Fantasies."
Taylor, L. Loring. "Forma Si Substanta Umorului la Richard Brautigan." Steaua 24(17) 1974: 27-28.
A Romanian review.
Tsurumi, Seiji. "Gendai Shosetsu No Ending: Pynchon, Barth, Brautigan." Oberon: Magazine For The Study of English and American Literature (45) 1982: 80-93.
Compares, from a Japanese perspective, the use of narrative endings by Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and Richard Brautigan.
Turner, Barnard. "A Western Writer in Germany and Japan: Richard Brautigan." Cultural Tropes of the American West. Lewiston: Edwin Mellon Press, 2005: 69-107.
Feedback from Barnard Turner
I have been looking through your very comprehensive Brautigan website and find it very informative. Very difficult to get this information these days, and I'm glad to have it online. I'm doing the revisions for a book about the idea of the American west abroad, and there's a chapter about Brautigan's Japan books and their reception in Japan and Germany.
About 10 years ago (ouch!) I corresponded with Gunter Ohnemus, Brautigan's German translator, about a so-called (by me) "mistake" in his translation of "Memory of a Girl" from Revenge of the Lawn: the Pocket Books edition he was using had transposed the last sentence of "A Study in California Flowers" to the last line of "Memory." Ohnemus wrote in a letter "for a while the city [Munich] was all green, and everywhere in the cafes there was chocolate cake." A great Brautigan city experience!
—. "Making Silence: Asian/American Literature and the Turn to Japan in Richard Brautigan's 'Tokyo-Montana Express' (1980) and David Mura's 'Turning Japanese' (1991)." Asia and America: Influences and Representations. Chng Huang Hoon and Gilbert Yeoh, editors. Singapore: University of Singapore, Centre for Advanced Studies Research Papers Series #26. November 2000: 35-60.
Villar Raso, M. "El Mito como Consumo [The Myth as Consumption]: Richard Brautigan." Camp de l'Arpa: Revista de Literatura [Magazine of Literature] 19 1975: 23, 25.
Says the American myth of living in the natural world enjoys a resurgence in the writing of Brautigan with such force that one wonders not only whether this myth actually existed in the past but whether it has been manipulted in some way to remove it from the conscious mind. In novels like In Watermelon Sugar, Trout Fishing in America, and The Abortion, Brautigan touches on the simple life preached by Ralph Waldo Emerson and lived by Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway's mountain streams with their powers of preserving health and youth, and Walt Whitman's progressive democracy. Because Brautigan employs a happy and non-impacting narrative style, the American dream remains alive and the myth of Acadia, the unspoiled land, still possible to reconstruct, even in large cities like New York and San Francisco.
Volger, Thomas A. "Brautigan, Richard." Contemporary Novelists. Ed. James Vinson. New York: St. Martin's 1972. 172-174.
Says the essence of Brautigan's art may be "more process than substance, more wit than wisdom."
the full text of this essay.
. Second Edition. Ed. James Vinson. New York: St. Martin's 1976. 179-180.
. Third Edition. Ed. James Vinson. New York: St. Martin's 1982. 99-100.
Wackwitz, Stephan. "Metaliterature." Merkur Deutsche Zeitschrift fur europäisches Denken. 53(8) August 1999: 737-742.
Centers on the relationships that exist between the reader and the author and how a foreign author gains new reality in another language through the act of translation. Says Günter Ohnemus, a not very well-known writer, and his wife Ilse translated Brautigan's works into German. Their translations succeeded not only in reconstructing Brautigan in German as a remarkable equivalent of the orginal English, but also qualitatively improved on the original in certain moments. Because both translators were so deeply familiar with Brautigan's style and aesthetic outlook, they were able to recreate, in certain sentences of their translation, an atmosphere so intense that Brautigan's vision and world view came to shine more visibly in German than in English. As a result of his translations of Brautigan's works, Ohnemus realizes in his own works, and especially in his collection of stories Zähneputzen in Helsinki (Brushing your Teeth in Helsinki), a fictional reality that is both original and also so closely linked to Brautigan that one could actually speak of a kind of "Metaliterature." Thus, it is no longer possible for a German to read Brautigan's novels without being keenly aware of Ohnemus' own literary works, even though these translations provide a new source for works that are enough "like Brautigan" to satisfy readers' desires for "new-Brautigan" writings.
"Richard Brautigan: Youth Fishing in America." Modern Occasions
2(2) Spring 1972: 308-13.
Says neither Brautigan's poetry or prose shows much substance.
His appeal consists primarily in an irrepressible optimism. . . . A style flashing with artifice, and a total disregard for effete university culture.
"From Breton to Barthelme: Westward the Course of Surrealism." Proceedings: PNW Conference on Foreign Languages
(22) 1971: 208-214.
Wiegensten, Roland H. "Zweimal [Twice] Richard Brautigan: II. Allerlei Geschichten—Scheinbar Verrückt [All Sorts of Poems—Apparently Mad]." Merkur (288) 26 April 1972: 396-97.
Says that Trout Fishing in America is for the disaffected youth at the end of the 1960s what [John] Steinbeck's Cannery Row was for those of the 1940s and [Jack] Kerouac's On the Road was for those of the 1950s. It is Brautigan's literary version of a non-coercive pastoral counter-mythology to the demands and realities of life in technological America. The short, casual prose vignettes contain the escapist set-scenes needed for the romantic elation of his readers but they abound in snickering self-ridicule and ironic detachment that add to the intellectual pleasure by putting things into perspective.
Winter, Helmut. "Ein Amerikaner mit skurrilen Tönen [An American with a Bizarre Timbre]." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (91) 5 May 1978: 26.
Wrobel, Arthur. "Richard Brautigan." Journal of American Culture 8(2) Summer 1985: 73.
Reviews Richard Brautigan
by Edward Halsey Foster. Says Brautigan deserves "a stronger study" than that provided in Foster's book.
To his credit, Foster does offer an interesting perspective for reading Brautigan, one that places him intellectually in a milieu that has attracted other contemporary Northwestern writers—Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Robert Bly, and Lycien Styk—namely, Eastern mysticism. . . . [But] skeptical of all idealogies anyhow, Brautigan may also be scrutinizing this au courant mysticism business, I suspect, no less critically than he did an earlier generation's hippie enthusiasms. His message is always the same: reality cannot be neatly contained within any circle of thought no matter how lightly or mystically vague its disciples draw its perimeters. Considering the degree to which Foster committed himself to this thesis, one would expect him to offer some final judgement about the influence, for better or worse, mysticism has had on Brautigan's work: how it encircles and deepens or vitates and distorts. But this is never given and Foster's own attitude is difficult to discern.