Richard Brautigan Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is a “cult writer”? What factors played a major role in Richard Brautigan’s becoming one?

Cite instances of Brautigan’s taking literary advantage of his wanderlust.

Humor can be a saving grace for an individual and for literary works. Discuss this statement with brief reference to several of Brautigan’s works or more extensively with respect to one.

Brautigan’s writing is notable for vivid sensory details. Examine some of them and explain how they function.

For young people, friendships loom very important but often lead to disappointment. Discuss the ambivalence of friendships in Brautigan’s fiction.

What is the organizing principle of Trout Fishing in America? What does it have to do with poetry?

Do Brautigan’s poetic techniques work in a prose novel?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Richard Brautigan’s fragmented prose style makes any effort to classify his work into long and short fiction difficult and somewhat arbitrary. Brautigan himself called all of his prose works novels, with the single exception of Revenge of the Lawn, but critics have understandably referred to his books as “un-novels” or “Brautigans,” works that seem approachable only on their own terms because they deliberately confront the realistic tradition of the novel by disregarding causality and character development.

Nevertheless, Trout Fishing in America and The Tokyo-Montana Express can be grouped with Revenge of the Lawn as examples of Brautigan’s short fiction. Although arguably unified by point of view, setting, theme, and recurrent characters, Trout Fishing in America and The Tokyo-Montana Express lack any semblance of coherent plot, and many of the individual selections which compose each book possess an integrity independent of context. Brautigan’s other novels are distinguished by at least a thin strand of continuous narrative. The most important of these longer fictions are A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964), In Watermelon Sugar (1968), and The Abortion: An Historical Romance (1971). The best known of his poetry collections are The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1968), Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt (1970), and June 30th, June 30th (1978).

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

When Don Allen’s Four Season Foundation published Trout Fishing in America in 1967, it became a favorite of the counterculture movement that was peaking that year during the “summer of love.” In the following year, Richard Brautigan was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Trout Fishing in America became a best-seller, eventually selling more than two million copies in twelve languages.

Trout Fishing in America was Brautigan’s first fictional work and established his success and reputation. In a sense, it became the standard against which his later works would be judged. Unfortunately, it associated him closely with the counterculture movement, giving rise to popular and even critical misconceptions. Brautigan was not (as some supposed) a spokesman for the hippie movement; rather, the counterculture simply became his first sizable audience. In actuality, Brautigan’s roots were more in the Beat poetry movement (which influenced his prose style), and he has even been considered a precursor to the metafictionalists of the 1970’s.

In any case, Brautigan brought a special quality to his fiction, a style of expression which, though deceptively simple and direct, teems with figures of speech that often seem to defy the bounds of language. Early critics seemed to miss, ignore, or disparage exactly these distinctive formal qualities. Often, Brautigan’s subject matter—the dead-end fixity of materialism, outworn myths, or the decay of the American dream—places him at home in the tradition of twentieth century American writers. What made Brautigan’s fiction attractive to his early psychedelic audience, however, was something new: implicit in his nontraditional structure and distended metaphors was the suggestion that experience could be transformed by imagination. The pursuit of shimmering,...

(The entire section is 1,994 words.)