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...
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