Richard Brautigan Brautigan, Richard (Vol. 3)

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Brautigan, Richard (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brautigan, Richard 1935(?)–

Brautigan is an American novelist and poet of the counterculture pastoral and is still best known for Trout Fishing in America.

Richard Brautigan … lives on, and is from, the West Coast—a fact which is relevant to understanding the ninety-eight poems in [The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster]. Brautigan writes poems whenever an interesting thought or phrase strikes him, or when something occurs that he feels needs to be celebrated or described. His poems are easy to read, which is a pleasure in itself, and there is very little literary feedback—that is, you're startled by what's being set down, or by a single twist either in content or in image, or by the honesty with which the poet is expressing himself, and then you continue, turning the page, without having to look back. Instant understanding is possible if you can get through Brautigan's tone, and this is where being from the West seems important, as the tone that directs these works is straightforward throughout, like a cowboy who tells a good story, only it's a new type of cowboy whose understanding of his landscape involves a mixture of peace and pleasure in everything that passes in front of his eyes. What struck me most was that there was no pressure at all to write any of the works in the book except for the knowledge and feeling that the poet could do it. Brautigan has learned from Jack Spicer about the limits and the possibilities of humor, of how far you can go in your own head while still remaining in control of the poem. The delicateness of this balance leads to an intensity which, when successful, overshadows the sometimes self-indulgent choice of subject matter….

Like Brautigan's other novels, [In Watermelon Sugar] is written in very short sections, so that a single consecutive activity like getting out of bed and going to have breakfast often takes several sections; and this is where the possibilities of transition or pacing take control of the book, for it's just as much how you read—how fast or slow—as what has actually been written that is important, how you let the weight of that simplicity stay in your head. One entire chapter, Hands, is quotable, and reads like the poems: "We walked back to iDEATH, holding hands. Hands are very nice things, especially after they have travelled back from making love."

Lewis Warsh, "Out of Sight," in Poetry (© 1970 by the Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), March, 1970, pp. 444-45.

Here [with The Abortion] is the author of Trout Fishing In America again, a trout in each pocket, picking watermelons off the overhanging branches. What to make of him? The best dodge may be to declare genius and withdraw, but this is not so easily accomplished….

For the half-beguiled, half-annoyed, unyoung straight reader, Richard Brautigan's gentle, shaggy little books have in them much of what is both very nice and too easy about the kid culture: its music, its mobility, its sex, the milder varieties of its pharmaceutical voyaging. Brautigan, at 36 an honorary kid, floats through his books on pure talent. If he does not seem to work very hard at his writing, well, they repealed the Protestant ethic after all and insouciance is one of his major attractions….

There was not much plot in Brautigan's 1967 bestseller, Trout Fishing in America, or In Watermelon Sugar (1968), which were not so much novels as paper bags full of disassociated whimsy. By contrast, The Abortion has a real story. The heroine is Vida, who brings a manuscript to the library one night. Her book is about her gorgeous body, in which she feels uncomfortable. The hero makes her feel comfortable. They live together in the back of the library, and she bakes chocolate cookies, which the hero gives to old ladies who bring manuscripts at three in the morning. It is all very pleasant. Then Vida gets pregnant, pleasantly, and the two of them go to Tijuana and find a pleasant abortionist. When they return to San...

(The entire section is 4,861 words.)