(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Trout Fishing in America is Brautigan’s best-known and probably most important novel, but it is organized in a manner different from his other novels and from more conventional examples of the genre. For one thing, it has no easily recognizable plot structure. Rather, it weaves together (with apparent randomness) about forty episodes in the unnamed narrator’s life and juxtaposes these with a few miscellaneous sections that illuminate the chapters in their vicinity. One thread of the story deals with the experiences of the narrator’s boyhood. From these the reader gains a sense of his unusual personality—especially his separateness, vivid imagination, and highly individual way of viewing life.

Another thread consists of the narrator’s trout fishing experiences, though these sometimes overlap with the boyhood episodes. Chapters set during the narrator’s adolescence show him seeking comfort and meaning from nature, well outside organized American society. Yet another thread in this complexly textured novel deals with the narrator’s life in beatnik San Francisco. By this point he has married and fathered a child. The reader will quickly notice that the chapters are not presented chronologically; instead, they occasionally form small thematic packets or sometimes appear to be arranged for the humorous relationships to one another.

The themes of Trout Fishing in America are at least as complex and various as the book’s structure. Many values that can be observed in Brautigan’s other books are upheld here. Certainly, friendship is important in life, the book implies, but so, too, are love, a direct contact with nature, freedom, individuality, and a good sense of humor.

Central to grasping the meaning of the novel is an understanding of...

(The entire section is 740 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Trout Fishing in America begins with a description of the book’s cover photograph, a picture of Brautigan and his wife, Virginia “Ginny” Adler, in front of the statue of Benjamin Franklin in San Francisco’s Washington Square. The poor gather there around five in the afternoon to eat sandwiches given to them by the church across the street. One of the narrator’s friends once unwrapped his sandwich to find only a leaf of spinach inside.

The first time the narrator had heard about trout fishing in America was from a drunken stepfather, and, as a child in Portland, Oregon, he once walked to a street corner and saw a waterfall pouring down from a hill. The next morning, ready to go trout fishing for the first time, he returned to find that the waterfall was only a pair of wooden stairs leading up to a house. Seventeen years later, an actual fisherman, he tried to hitch a ride to go fishing, but no car would pick him up—another disappointment.

Another childhood memory involves the Kool-Aid Wino, a friend who, because of an injury, had to stay home all day. Together, the narrator and the Wino bought grape Kool-Aid and ceremoniously made an entire gallon of it from a nickel package. Ready for a day’s drinking, they created their own Kool-Aid reality. Recipes for apple compote, pie crust, “spoonful” pudding, and walnut catsup lead to memories of Mooresville, Indiana, the home of the John Dillinger Museum, where a Mooresville resident once discovered a basement full of rats and, Dillinger-like, bought a revolver to get rid of them. The narrator’s memories continue to move back and forth from early recollections to recent ones, and from urban memories to outdoor ones.

In San Francisco (a “Walden Pond for Winos”), the narrator and his friends, unemployed artists, talk of opening a flea circus or committing themselves to a mental asylum, where it would be warm and they would...

(The entire section is 790 words.)