The very title of Richard Brautigan’s novel emphasizes the unusual conjunction of events, characters, and places that distinguishes much of his fiction from conventional treatments of history and society. His characters are drawn to powerful figures, such as Lee Mellon, who define their own reality; fantasy, in other words, is related as fact—primarily because, in Brautigan’s view, human beings make up their lives as they go along, regardless of what the history books and common sense seem to prescribe. The results of this flaunting of realism are usually comic and ironic and in the service of the novelist’s perception that reality is not nearly so stable or so reliable as serious recorders of fact would have it.
Lee Mellon, for example, claims to be from the South, although he has no trace of a Southern accent. His great-grandfather was a Confederate general, he tells the narrator, Jesse, although on their trip to the library they find no General Augustus Mellon in the history books. Jesse, who admires Lee and takes on his propensity for rewriting history, begins the book by stating that Big Sur was the twelfth Confederate state. Both characters engender a sense of history that is true to their own situation—that is, as outcasts from the dominant culture, they have picked a time and a place that suits their identities; they have seceded, so to speak, from the mainstream and fashioned a counterculture.
As befits an unconventional...
(The entire section is 502 words.)