Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5283
Brautigan, Richard 1933–
Brautigan, an American poet and novelist of the counter-culture, writes witty, fanciful, parabolic fiction. His best known work is Trout Fishing in America. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
All of Brautigan's techniques [in In Watermelon Sugar]—repetition, juxtaposition, fragmentation of time and setting, use of strange lyricism and elements from fantasy and science fiction—come to us through the point of view of the nameless narrator and gradually accumulate toward characterization for negative effect. We obtain the final clue to Brautigan's intention for the novel as a whole when we come to the society's one claim to pure pleasure: communal pride. The narrator repeatedly tells us that he and the others like living in watermelon sugar, that it does suit them; or, in a more defiant vein, "there must be worse lives"…. Indeed not. The "delicate balance in iDEATH"… is the delusion that they can maintain a neutral position disjunct from violence and death without also cutting themselves off from life's fullness. The basic error results in boredom, ritual, and sterility, devoid not only of pleasure but of all feeling and thus all real curiosity, vitality, or a reason for existence. Life in watermelon sugar may be literally the same as dying, since we are told of only one birth … to "balance" twenty-two suicides.
Seen in this way, In Watermelon Sugar is more than a fad book. It is not a description of "the students' way of life" or a lyric description of a successful counterculture. Brautigan judges his utopian commune and finds it wanting, and the "curious lack of emotion" is the very reason for the negative judgment. Brautigan reminds us that a worse thing than violence and death could be a life without pity or joy. (p. 16)
Patricia Hernlund, "Author's Intent: 'In Watermelon Sugar'," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction (copyright © by Critique, 1974), Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1974, pp. 5-17.
On first reading Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, one senses that something extraordinary has happened to the form of the novel, to the intellectual and aesthetic conventions to which we have become accustomed. Brautigan's work is jigsaw puzzle art that demands more than close reading; it demands an active participation by the reader, a reconstruction of a vision that has been fragmented but warmed by a private poetic sensibility. Three avenues of accessibility, the novel as a utopian instrument, the analogues to the Garden of Eden, and natural determinism converge and create a frame for Brautigan's novel.
Brautigan has created the utopian dream for the post-industrial age of affluence, beyond IBM, and finally beyond curiosity. His longings, unlike other utopian ideals, have no claim on progress, no uplifting of the material condition of man, no holy wars to redistribute the physical wealth, no new metaphors for survival based on the securing of human necessities, and no emotional nirvanas. Other utopian dreamers have responded directly to the events of their age, but Brautigan is responding to the cumulative ages of man, and no response can be significant for him that does not place the entire past on the junk heap (the forgotten works). Nothing will do but a fresh start, with a fresh set of assumptions; In Watermelon Sugar takes us back to the beginning for this is Eden, with its syllabic and accented soul mate iDEATH, reconstructed.
The phrase from which the book draws its title is the initial indicator of Brautigan's reconstructed garden, for "In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again." We enter the novel during the "again" stage, man's second great attempt to obtain an earthly paradise; the unnamed narrator implies the failure of the past and indicates the social purpose of his creation when he states on the first page, "I hope this works out." Although we shall not attempt here to discover all of the Biblical analogues, we should point out that the narrator of the novel gives us a list of things he will tell us about … and that the list encompasses twenty-four items, the same number as books in the Hebraic version of the Old Testament. In addition, the novel is divided into three books, again paralleling the current division of the Old Testament into three sections. In themselves, these similarities are not important, but when coupled with the physical descriptions of the rivers …, an analogue to the four rivers traversing Eden, and with the natural setting of piney woods, watermelon fields, and golden sun, the natural beauty and simplicity of an Eden seem apparent. The narrator also describes his simple shack made from natural materials and tells us, "I have a gentle life"…. (pp. 18-19)
All leads to the obvious, that the narrator is Adam II, that he originated not from the dust, but is rather a creation of rational man-eating tigers who have eaten his parents and left him an orphan. The new Adam emerges, not out of the dust of a universe in chaos, but out of the debris of a systematic and highly developed social order. His navel is intact, but the past is becoming less and less intelligible to him; the forgotten works are a British Museum of discards, the books and wisdom in disarray and intellectually inaccessible, and the physical world a shambles of objects without meaning. The new Adam finds his past as bewildering as the land outside Eden was to the old Adam. Adam II is created, not by the hand of God, but out of a disintegrating social order whose meaning is lost. It is not a world in which God is dead, for God has never existed. Its creative force is scientific, rational, and competitive, in which emotions run high over rights of ownership for materials of survival, and the creation is its antithesis. The tigers incorporate the human qualities of rational discourse and instinctive survival (they eat Adam II's parents not out of malice, but out of hunger). The tigers symbolize the destructive ambiguity of man, his instinct for survival and his rational nature that allows him to explain his acts of violence in terms of survival. As civilization becomes more and more sophisticated, the connections between violent acts and survival become less direct, until finally man loses the ability to connect his deeds with his goals. Such perverted nature is one that needs to be eradicated in Brautigan's cosmos.
If one sees civilization as an elaborate rationalization process, as Brautigan apparently does, then the return to the good life must allow for the destruction of the accoutrements of the rationalistic society. The forgotten works are the destroyed society; as the new society builds it must discover its own realities. The dimensions of iDEATH are circumscribed in new ways from the vanished structure. If man faces up to his biological nature, if he realizes that sophisticated civilized acts grow out of biological instincts and drives, then he must connect his acts directly to his goals in order to return to the essential of existence. Better yet, he must allow himself to become an instrument of nature. From Brautigan's vision, then, grows a natural determinism that is exhibited throughout the novel.
In Watermelon Sugar, like the Old Testament, is a work of teaching and guidance. It sets up the law and creates the myths of the future. In place of a tree of knowledge, we now have the forgotten works, both of which test man's obedience and his curiosity. (pp. 19-20)
Like Eden's, iDEATH's enemy is knowledge and curiosity. Perhaps implied in the assumptions of every utopian work, activity must cease when one succeeds in creating his perfection. The status quo must be maintained for all utopias; only the point at which existence is frozen makes them different. In Watermelon Sugar creates a non-authoritarian rule, an intensely self-disciplined society which limits its parameters consciously, while Eden is circumscribed by an outside authority. Brautigan's goals are substantially the same as those of the Old Testament, but he uses a humanistic rather than a deistic device to maintain iDEATH. (p. 23)
In many ways the new Eden is the Bible for the contemporary college generation, a generation that rejects man's mastery over nature, rejects intellectual rationalism, rejects authoritarianism, and emphasizes the natural elements in existence, embraces the environment, and lives collectively rather than individually. The novel finally becomes the new Genesis, the Bible for a new world, with new assumptions, that is carried in the hearts of the young. Such moral stricture according to Brautigan is naturally rather than divinely inspired. Like other utopias, iDEATH creates a sense of boredom, of inaction, and the mundane tasks of existence seem to pale before the activities of an inBOIL who acts out, who literally rebels at the world of pure sensation by his acts of sensory mutilation. Adam II as the passive chronicler is not made of the stuff that we have come to know in traditional prophets, but in a world of new assumptions, he is perhaps the archetype for the future. By any standard, most utopian novels are not exciting reading, and yet an emotional appeal that demands every man to speculate on a future good exerts a pulling force on the reader. Brautigan takes us a step beyond because he bends the language, he shapes a universe of half-inch rivers and grand old trout, statues of grass and a waste land that even the birds avoid. The poet is inseparable from the novelist, so utopia gains a new dimension. (p. 24)
Harvey Leavitt, "The Regained Paradise of Brautigan's 'In Watermelon Sugar'," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction (copyright © by Critique, 1974), Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1974, pp. 18-24.
As Richard Brautigan says, his first novel, Trout Fishing in America, is "a vision of America." The work is firmly rooted in the American tradition of Twain and Hemingway, of works whose theme is that man's only salvation lies in escaping from the complexities of city life into the tranquility of the country. While Huck Finn could "light out for the Territory" and Nick Adams could find peace in the Michigan woods, Brautigan's narrator discovers that escape to the wilderness is no longer so simple. Instead of virgin forests, he finds camp grounds so overcrowded that a campsite becomes available only when someone dies…. [The] imaginative escape is still possible: such a notion is the heart of Trout Fishing in America.
Brautigan presents the idea through a type of metaphor peculiar to him: although metaphor is certainly not his invention, his particular use of it seems unique…. In Brautigan's novel,… the tenor and the vehicle of the metaphor become fused: the imagined likeness becomes a literal rather than metaphorical identity. For example, Brautigan describes some trout in a stream as being "like fallen leaves." Immediately afterward, however, he says, "I caught a mess of those leaves for dinner." The progression here is important: beginning with the simile "like fallen leaves," an image of how the trout look in the stream, Brautigan converts the simile to a pure metaphor, "I caught a mess of those leaves." The metaphor, then, dynamically moves from a statement of similarity to a statement of identity: the leaves can be caught and eaten for dinner. (pp. 25-6)
[One] interesting implication [of this technique] is that such a use of metaphor—"Brautigan metaphors"—suggests a particular connection between imagination and reality, that the manner in which one thinks of and describes reality can alter reality itself…. (p. 27)
[In another incident, merely] thinking about John Dillinger is enough to cause him to appear. The idea that thought alone has the power to conjure up a physical presence is common in the early development both of the individual mind and of human culture in general, for it is basically a magical notion, and "magical" is an excellent description of Brautigan's view of the imaginative faculty, which through language can alter reality by providing a mental escape from its hardships. (pp. 28-9)
[The] theme of the novel is the narrator's development of an imaginative faculty which has the power to change reality. As a boy, the narrator cannot make a flight of stairs become a creek, but as a man he is able to: when he finally encounters the object of his quest, the character named Trout Fishing in America (the essence of the wilderness), the meeting takes place on the Big Wood River …, a "wooden" stream where he can catch fish. Brautigan names two of his chapters "Knock on Wood" and mentions the Big Wood River twice, a coincidence of names hardly fortuitous.
The novel's theme, much like that of Wordsworth's The Prelude, is the development of the power of the imagination; acquiring such power results in an ability, like that in "Tintern Abbey," to summon imagination to one's aid in times of distress: it provides a way of escaping to nature even in the midst of a city. If Brautigan's novel is "a vision of America," it also reminds us that America is "often only a place in the mind…. Through imagination one can still achieve an escape to the wilderness and a salvation from the anxieties of the city—even a mechanized, urban America from which literal escape and salvation have become increasingly harder to attain. (pp. 30-1)
Thomas Hearron, "Escape through Imagination in 'Trout Fishing in America'," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction (copyright © by Critique, 1974), Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1974, pp. 25-31.
For all its seeming formal disparities and discontinuities, Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America explores a very traditional theme, the gap between ideal America and real America, between Trout Fishing in America and Trout Fishing in America Shorty. Continually, Brautigan contrasts temporal and geographic America with a timeless America that is "often only a place in the mind."… Despite the disillusionment, the sense of failure and loss pervading the novel, Brautigan attempts to bridge the gap through the artist's power of imagining America otherwise. In so doing, Brautigan becomes a legatee of an uncompromisingly idealistic strain of American writing that wills to redeem America through formal achievement. (p. 32)
The example of Moby Dick is instructive in dealing with the structure and style of Trout Fishing in America, since Melvillean echoes resound throughout the novel…. The sheer quantity of short chapters, their apparently random arrangement, their digressive nature, with a number of chapters seemingly unrelated to the narrative—all reflect the "careful disorderliness" of Moby Dick. The characters whom the narrator crosses in his meanderings are the equivalents of Moby Dick's various gams, which illuminate central thematic concerns. Stylistically, Brautigan's verbal inventiveness approaches Melville's. Trout Fishing in America is loaded with put-ons, parodies, throwaway comments, whimsical irony, pseudo-logic, mock scholarship—for example, the list of fishing books that includes no accounts of "Trout Death by Port Wine"…, hyperbole, incongruous juxtapositions, and red herrings too numerous to document. For the careful reader, surprises lurk on every page. Both Moby Dick and Trout Fishing in America convey a sense of the imagination run wild in their stylistic wit and ingenuity. At times, the tones and rhythms of Brautigan's sentences shrewdly approximate Melville's…. Both writers delight in the unlimited freedom of the imagination, and both exhibit boundless pleasure in exploring the resources and possibilities of language. Brautigan's homage to Melville's experimental structure and style is omnipresent in Trout Fishing in America. (pp. 33)
In his novel, like Melville, Brautigan seeks an "organic process," a unique form that will revitalize well-worn materials. (p. 34)
Besides the structural and stylistic similarities between the two writers, Brautigan and Melville converge in their use of controlling symbols. Both Moby Dick and Trout Fishing in America are fluid symbols, metamorphic, and chameleon-like…. Both entities remain mysterious, unknowable, capable of accruing projected associations and values, yet never revealing their essential meanings. In attempting to arrive at some understanding of such phantoms, Melville and Brautigan circle their subjects again and again, hoping that obliquity will succeed where directness fails. Ultimately, Moby Dick and Trout Fishing in America elude fixed meanings, exist inviolate and indefinable, and retain their freedom in the province of the human imagination. As they should, whale and trout finally resist human grasps and swim free. For both Melville and Brautigan, only the pursuit itself, the continuing quest for the ineffable, holds lasting value. As Brautigan's frustrated, but resigned, Alonso Hagen says: "Somebody else will have to go out there"… to search for Trout Fishing in America.
The protean form of the novel allows Brautigan great range in exploring his main theme of ideal America versus real America. Trout fishing as a symbol is metamorphic, surely, but at the same time constant in representing an ideal—the continuing historical appeal that America has for the human imagination as a place where all good things are possible. (pp. 34-5)
As Brautigan traces our downward historical journey through the contrasts and ironies of the various episodes, he reinforces his theme by carefully placing most episodes in specific time contexts: times of day, seasons of the year, ages of the narrator and characters. A consistent cyclical pattern emerges, the parts of which gather very traditional emotional and psychological associations. The framework, in turn, suggests a broader parallel, as times, seasons, and ages are linked to a spiritual record of America. (pp. 36-7)
In choosing to write the kind of fiction that he does—symbolic, parabolic, fantastic—Brautigan clearly aligns himself with the tradition of American romancers, as opposed to that of the realists. The "actual and the imaginary" collide on every page of Trout Fishing in America. In his conviction that an imaginative ideal America is the only true America, Brautigan joins the tradition of Thoreau, who says: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains." Hints of the same kind of distant perspective appear in Brautigan's novel with references to time, death, and eternity—particularly in "Trout Fishing on the Street of Eternity"…. As with Thoreau, all ultimates are absorbed into and transcended by the imagination in an effort to create a universe that "answers to our conceptions." Although Brautigan would happily send that emissary from the actual—Shorty—to realistic writers, he intends to keep Trout Fishing in America for himself. (p. 40)
David L. Vanderwerken, "'Trout Fishing in America' and the American Tradition," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction (copyright © by Critique, 1974), Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1974, pp. 32-40.
"The Hawkline Monster" can be read as one more of Richard Brautigan's surpassingly pleasant divertissements in prose, for it is, like his other four novels, wanly pretty, curious, unexciting, winsome, sprinkled with both sparkling and foolish wit, likable, wispy. Brautigan's writing inspires adjectives, not nouns. The atmosphere is the thing, not events or characters or emotions. Better not dig too deep. No veins of anything solid here.
In "The Hawkline Monster," which is subtitled "A Gothic Western," there is a difference. There are fewer jokes and they are not so amiably odd. Brautigan is more literary. There is sort of a plot, with tension, conflict and relief—if you watch for them carefully and don't blink. Eastern Oregon takes on the look of Yorkshire moors; the mysterious mansion and the whimsy of the supernatural something below stairs recalls Otranto; and the finale is a grand old device used by many writers but still workable if you can get up a good head of steam. There is an unsung, self-sacrificing hero, and even a moral if you like—Brautigan does not insist on it.
The story is partly satire and partly an excuse. The excuse is for Brautigan's wit, which consists of anecdotes and similes….
Brautigan is, in a word, cute. To be cute is, for the novelist, to enter a dangerous country. It requires a very precise judgment indeed. But Brautigan is the region's Mountain Man—he braves this wilderness fearlessly.
Besides being cute, the action of a Brautigan fiction is as lazy, as airily inconsequential as the behavior of his compatriots in Big Sur. The emphasis is on unflappability. Go with the flow, man. There's a monster downstairs. Gotta kill it. For sure. But the ladies come first. And then dinner. Then the monster.
There is, of course, lots of casual sex, casually described. The sex is less an event that matters than a thing the stick-figure people do to kill time. All the actions here are just as casual. It is as if Brautigan had given up on personalities and their motivations when he began to spend more time on plot. In "In Watermelon Sugar" he presents the reader with a quandary, for the morbid inBOIL and the tragic Margaret do have personalities and do take at least the actions of their suicides seriously, giving the reader a more sympathetic focus for his attention than the pallid, Brautiganian types in the foreground. This could be mastery or clumsiness on the writer's part. The reader is not sure which.
In this latest work it is only the Monster and its shadow that matter to us. The nominal heroes are hired murderers who "could handle any situation that came up with a minimum amount of effort resulting in a maximum amount of effect." A minimum amount of effort is what they take, too, and they have no effect on the reader at all. One would like to care about the Misses Hawkline but, although their creator limns their bodies and their inherited predicament in some detail, they remain chance acquaintances. Perhaps Brautigan is celebrating the obsequies of the persona and I am out of fashion, but it looks more like his characters have all become the shadows into which the Monster at one point hopes to change them.
Richard Brautigan is a popular writer. He is clever and brief; he touches themes and myths close to the current fantasy without being too difficult or too long to complete and understand at a single sitting. He is witty, likable, even literate—a rare virtue nowadays. "The Hawkline Monster" read through once is enjoyable, can even provide a belly laugh. Skimmed through a second time it was, for this reader, unbearable.
It's a merry little book, good for reading by flashlight to friends toasting marshmallows during the next energy crisis, or else to be picked up for 15 minutes in a bookstore. You'll enjoy that quarter hour. (pp. 6-7)
John Yohalem, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 8, 1974.
Imagine Zane Grey trying to spruce up Book I of "The Faerie Queen" to make it accessible to readers west of Wichita and you'll have some idea of this fable's disarming appeal. [In The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western all] the ingredients of A Good Old Myth are present: (1) a remote Gothic house that maintains its own freezing temperature in the summer heat of the Dead Hills of eastern Oregon; (2) a monster said to thrash about in the ice caves beneath the Gothic house; (3a) an unmarried woman threatened by the monster; (3b) her sister, an identical twin; (4) their father, an alchemist consumed by his search for (5) the proper mix of chemicals that will solve the ultimate problem of mankind; (6) two professional killers.
Now for the recipe of the plot. Set aside (4) while (1) freezes in its simmering container. Separate (3a) and (3b), removing (3b) to (6). Bring (3b) and (6) to (1), then blend (3a) and (3b). Let (5) boil over until (2) is overdone. Apply (6) to (2). Allow (3a) and (3b) and (6) to scramble; spice with dirty words. (The sex is inevitable once you have unmarried women troubled by a monster thrashing in their cellar.) And there you have it. The result, I assure you, is as cute as a bucket of oyster stew: you can suck it right down before you remember to put in your teeth. (pp. 82-3)
Richard Brautigan is beloved by college kids [and] is admired for his tenderness toward human vulnerability, for his pose of the faux naïf, for his air of sweet inexpressible sadness…. Brautigan is a singularly careful writer…. Brautigan is a miniaturist who broods about death, who builds his novels from small self-contained blocks. He cannot entirely avoid coyness or dead-end digressions. Yet he conveys a sense of spare economy, of humorous or graceful lines eased in almost imperceptibility….
"The Hawkline Monster is rather more of a pastiche, more of a parody than any of Brautigan's other fictions. It lacks the complexity, the many evanescent refractions of his best book, "Trout Fishing in America," which taps a central metaphor of American literature and deserves to survive the time in which it was written. Never mind. There are enough oppositions here (heat/cold; light/shadow; sex/death) to keep freshman instructors fueled for a decade. And I like the subtitle. Little old ladies waiting in libraries for "Cashelmara" to be returned to the shelves may pick it up, unwittingly. And then won't they be surprised. (p. 83)
Peter S. Prescott, "Monster in the Cellar," in Newsweek (copyright 1974 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), September 9, 1974, pp. 82-3.
Reading Richard Brautigan often gives me the sensation of gazing in a mirror. He and I are nearly the same age, grew up in similar circumstances in small Western towns and cities, and moved to the Bay Area at about the same time. There is, then, a narcissist pleasure in seeing what feels like my own experience given a clarity of expression I have rarely been able to give it. But beyond this shared experience I sense a larger similarity. With a shift in focus I see, "behind" me in the mirror, my society, the social "nature" and its natural setting as they are now, including the social myths that at once unite and divide the society as they mediate its sense (and senses) of reality. Doubtless I assent to the "truth" of this reflection in part because I recognize myself in the foreground, but it is not merely self-love that validates Brautigan's image of society for me. Rather it is the truth of the self-image, the accurate picture it gives of my ambivalence toward the experience that is "mine" and helped make me "me." We have learned to recognize ambivalence in ourselves; Brautigan's mirror to society shows it at work there as well—and on a scale transcending individual ambivalences, and not merely their sum. Trout Fishing in America shows especially well the boundaries and common ground of these two related ambivalences. (p. 29)
Brautigan shows us people balancing, people falling, people long ago fallen. He doesn't lose balance, though, even when he temporarily sends his narrator sprawling. Throughout he makes us feel that balance is an aesthetic virtue as well as a key to survival. It can also be celebratory: Brautigan deftly weighs beginnings against conclusions, chapters against chapters, motifs against motifs, not so much to shore fragments against ruins in order to survive as to remind us that, while the play is in earnest, it is still play. If we can follow the line walked among report, reminiscence, and fantasy in "Trout Fishing on the Street of Eternity," say, catching the nuances of feeling that accompany these turns, we can learn to keep our balance elsewhere in the book and perhaps outside it too. The narrator, by putting himself always before us as the narrator, shows himself master of the contradictions as well as their embodiment, yet always behind him is the final fabricator, Brautigan himself, even more the master. He reminds us of this role by the artful juggling of chapters and motifs I mentioned just now, but at the close—like a good juggler—he twice calls attention to his role and person…. As the simple and obvious modulation of voice in "Trout Fishing in America Nib" reminds us, the narrator's nib can produce many different effects, express a variety of contradictory myths and facts. He is at home in contradiction, clear-eyed and firm of hand as he creates a fictional world that mirrors oddly but clearly the myth-mediated world of cross purposes that we inhabit waking and sleeping, the world that we inherit and the world that, "growing up," we have shaped in part for ourselves. As Brautigan has shaped him. (pp. 39-40)
[Comprehension], seeing and feeling things and persons as they are along with the myths by which they order and disorder their lives, means most to Brautigan. It permits him and us to recapture the simple while remaining aware of the complex, to fish for trout while aware of all that trout fishing ignores. Most of all, it evades pessimism by offering an escape into other ways of ordering reality into "new" myth. The method requires cunning as well as skill, and so too does trout fishing. (p. 41)
Neil Schmitz's "Richard Brautigan and the Modern Pastoral," in Modern Fiction Studies, 19 (Spring 1973), almost decided me against writing this, for besides being excellent it covers A Confederate General from Big Sur, The Abortion, and In Watermelon Sugar as well as Trout Fishing. [Excerpts from Schmitz's essay appear in CLC-3, page 90.] But while Schmitz calls attention to the power of myth in Brautigan, he seems to me mistaken about how to take it all—or how Brautigan takes it. Schmitz's Brautigan is moved by an "ironic pessimism" to deflate the "posturing rhetoric" of myth. "What exists in history, things as they are" possess for him the greatest power. Like Roland Barthes, whose definition of myth he adopts, Schmitz sees myth as essentially lies to be seen as such and overcome. In this view myth alienates signs or words from the reality they name. Since I don't think Brautigan shares this rationalism and know I do not, I have written this essay in qualified praise of myth's inevitable but limited power. (pp. 41-2)
Kent Bales, "Fishing the Ambivalence, or, A Reading of Trout Fishing in America," in Western Humanities Review (copyright, 1974, University of Utah), Winter, 1975, pp. 29-42.
[The Hawkline Monster] is a 'gothic western' set in Oregon in 1902…. Mr Brautigan's arch little chapterettes, laid out with the prissy self-importance of a WI flower arranger, certainly take their toll. The watered style and paper-thin narrative leave so much of the mind free that it zooms hopefully around looking for possible allegory, symbolism or even (cutting its losses) straight-forward hidden depth. One returns to base fatigued and empty-handed. (p. 457)
Julian Barnes, in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), April 4, 1975.
[Brautigan] describes [The Hawkline Monster] as a "Gothic Western," and it certainly has that mid-Atlantic and cross-cultural flavour which I associate with extremely bad novels. Cameron and Greer are professional hit-men, who will do anything for the money. Richard Brautigan has obviously learnt something from them. He rattles out his jokes like wax bullets, he almost hits his targets—it is surprising he doesn't get a little closer, since they are the remarkably large ones of conventional horror and conventional adventure—and he uses that ironic and dead-pan manner which is supposed to imply everything but which actually means nothing. (p. 411)
The Hawkline Monster contains a great deal of fancy but no imagination at all—this is presumably what the publishers and Mr Brautigan mean by "gothic"; fortunately, the novel is arranged as a series of brief chapters, and the print is very large, so the tedium of its self-indulgent whimsy is camouflaged for quite long periods. But you can never hide your darkness under a bushel, and Mr Brautigan's prose eventually becomes flat and uninventive, his narrative stale and repetitive. The publishers, of course, tell us that it is "beautifully evocative, funny and observant" but I presume that none of them actually read the book. (p. 412)
Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1975 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), April 5, 1975.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support