Richard Brautigan 1935–
American novelist, short story writer, and poet. Brautigan is often seen as one of the major practitioners of the New Fiction and as the literary representative of the sixties' counterculture. His works resist categorization, combining imagination, comedy, and unconventional plots and language to present a melancholy vision of American life. Brautigan's books show a recognition of and a dissatisfaction with current absurdity at the same time that they long nostalgically for the past. He mourns the betrayal of the American dream, and the theme of much of his early work has been the search for an American Eden. Trout Fishing in America is considered the best representation of this theme. His overall philosophy is a stoic acceptance of our declining culture, and a belief that the use of good humor and the power of imagination gives zest and humanity to life. Brautigan's literary view has been compared to that of novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and it was Vonnegut who successfully introduced Brautigan's work, published originally by California small presses, to a national publishing company. The popularity of Brautigan's books spread across the country, finding many readers among college students who identified with his philosophy and were excited by the unorthodox use of language and structure of his poetry and fiction. Brautigan's gentleness and whimsicality appealed to the youth of the late sixties, as did his references to popular music, sexual freedom, and drug experiences. Often writing from the point of view of an adolescent, Brautigan presented himself as a writer who related to youth. However, he has been criticized for being too hip, clever, and bizarre, and his works have been called insubstantial and facile. Recently Brautigan has been writing parodies of Gothics, science fiction, and mysteries. These works are generally considered less successful than his earlier efforts. Although critics occasionally wonder if Brautigan has passed his time of relevance, it is generally agreed that his best work transcends temporal limitations and holds a unique place in American literature. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3, 5, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
Richard Brautigan's beat-story A Confederate General from Big Sur—strikes me as very crude indeed. In it the beatnik tendency to disorganization of form and inconsequence of content reaches a new low. (p. 8)
There is little to say of Richard Brautigan's A Confederate General from Big Sur except that it is no story at all but only a series of improvised scenes in the manner of Jack Kerouac. It is pop-writing of the worst kind, full of vapid jokes and equally vapid sex-scenes which are also a joke, though scarcely in the sense intended by the author. Its two protagonists, inevitably, are a couple of young men who have made scrounging for food, liquor, and women their life-career. The only connection with the Confederacy is that one of the young men fraudulently claims descent from a general in the Civil War, And what is so terribly funny about that remains the author's secret. (p. 10)
Philip Rahv, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1965 Nyrev, Inc.), April 8, 1965.
[The Galilee Hitch-Hiker] has nine short poems which take their shape from quotations from Baudelaire, and from the kind of residue in the reader's mind concerning his recollection of Baudelaire's life—or what we take his life to have been, relying on his poems. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. The perfect poem is the second one, The American Hotel …—which is really a kind of comic genius. It might be useful to note that these poems have a sense of "camp" about them, clearly manifested, and much more intriguing than what is now going down as wit…. But they are very subtle and literary, and function dryly. (p. 59)
Gilbert Sorrentino, in Poetry (©
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