Richard Brautigan Brautigan, Richard (Vol. 1)

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Brautigan, Richard (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brautigan, Richard 1935–

American novelist and poet, best known for Trout Fishing in America.

Mr. Brautigan is funnier than [the] poor literates, these joke makers and gag writers; he is faster than Peter de Vries, he's faster than Congress, as wry as Ring Lardner, and as outrageous, though less bizarre. than the last American humorist, Nathanael West….

Only a true patriot can successfully make fun of America. At a time when our most gifted authors are dedicated to outdoing each other in apocalyptic metaphors and horrific allegories, a visionary and enthusiast like Brautigan is especially welcome.

Like all true humorists, Richard Brautigan eschews the label. Spies and humorists can only function under cover. So rather than thinking of Brautigan as a comic writer, imagine a six-foot country boy, with wire-rim glasses and a homemade haircut and a shaggy, Wild West moustache that doesn't quite hide a perpetual grin….

Inside this hulking innocent, this perfect bumpkin, is a special (very special) correspondent from a terribly literate sort of Field & Stream magazine whose contributors are outdoorsmen on the order of Turgenev, Hemingway, Bill Burroughs (expert on abnormal fauna and miraculous flora), Jack London, Robinson Jeffers and other high-class literary naturalists. In such exalted company, Mr. Brautigan is right at home.

We certainly are fortunate to have a writer like Mr. Brautigan, who isn't interested in shocking or terrifying or cursing America, but applies his talents to making us understand that "America is not an outhouse resting upon the imagination."

He writes of an America not unlike the humpback trout he claims to have caught, in prose that is as clean, as incisive, as graceful as anything being written in America today….

He writes clearly, enunciating each phrase. He is not sloppy, he is not sentimental, he is close to the ground and without intellectual pretensions. He is never profound, but he is often a poet. A literary man of the people: which is to say, he's a gifted hick. It takes a sort of sincerity that is traditional among country folk to bypass all the rhetoric and solve one of the mysteries to the American dilemma.

Stephen Schneck, in Ramparts, December, 1967.

It is often difficult to recommend Brautigan to an audience accustomed to being regularly bored by whatever apocalyptic surrealist of the week is blocking their driveway. The usual factional slogans don't seem to help in explaining his magic. It is perhaps easier to make the common reader see it, with his ordinary expectations in fiction. For what is important is that Brautigan's outlandish gift is based in traditional narrative virtues. His dialogue is supernaturally exact; his descriptive concision is the perfect carrier for his extraordinary comic perceptions. Moreover, the books possess a springtime moral emptiness; essentially works of language, they offer no bromides for living….

Brautigan is conspicuously the performer. To the reader accustomed to novels tiresomely self-contained and scrupulously unsympathetic, he offers shameless fictional showboating. He is not constantly tripping on the heart of darkness and coming up in maladroit black-humor glee to confirm our worst suspicions. He seems crazy with optimism. Like some widely gifted Rotarian who wants you to come to his town, he seems assured and sincere. Those who are claiming [Trout Fishing in America] as a classic might base their claims for continuity in exactly this optimism. Gentleness is his obsession, personal and ecological. Stylistically, his American next of kin is Kenneth Patchen; but the sunniness reminds the reader of not only people like Thoreau and W. C. Williams but the infrequently cited Zane Grey.

Thomas McGuane, in New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 15, 1970, p. 49.

I would give a dollar to know what is going on in Richard Brautigan's head while he writes his epigrammatic poems. They read like an urban renewal...

(The entire section is 1,766 words.)