In Passing, Richard Brautigan ….

April 17, 2007

In thinking about Kurt Vonnegut the past few days, I found myself also thinking about Richard Brautigan. Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America is a cultural icon, and though his popularity waned and he, sadly, committed suicide in 1984, there are a lot of people out there that still remember his writing and its effect on people. Brautigan was part of the counter-culture, and wrote with a surreal, whimsically humorous bent dashed with dabs of melancholy, not unlike his own life, I imagine.

In true marketing fashion, I became aware of Brautigan through the simplistic if odd covers of his books long before I actually bought one. The covers I remember usually featured a photograph of a farmer-like Brautigan along with some girl, the photograph framed by colored margins. The cover of Trout Fishing, for example, features him and the woman he called his muse surrounded in a dull pink frame. On the shelves at the time were a collection of short stories, Revenge of the Lawn, and a book of poetry, The Pill vs. The Springhill Mine Disaster, and a novel, In Watermelon Sugar, all with the same type of style. Later books threw the whole marketing scheme off — The Abortion, The Hawkline Monster, Willard and His Bowling Trophies, and a reprint of his first book, A Confederate General From Big Sur.

I first read his third novel, In Watermelon Sugar. Ingrained in memory: The deeds were done and done again as my life is done In Watermelon Sugar. I tell you this because I am here and you are distant.

In my senior year of high school I and one of the brainer cheerleader types were asked to represent the school in some type of national writing contest. We each had to write a full-length story and submit it to a committee of teachers for forwarding to the contest, with only one submission chosen.

I knew I was doomed, going up against Ms. Popularity. She was was not only pretty and very smart, but she was also the co-editor of the school newspaper. I actually liked her, at least when she brushed up against me in the school darkroom. She could write well but I always thought her fiction pieces were right on the assignment requested and too safe. Yes, I was an elitist. My own pieces were frequently only remotely connected to the assignment, and sometimes not at all. And I was good enough then to get away with it.

I don’t remember the specifics of the contest, or how long I had to write the piece, nor do I really remember the specifics of the story. What I do remember is a surprisingly lengthy, very intentionally Brautigan-like piece in a very Watermelon Sugar-IDEATH like setting. It concerned a character named Daniel who thought he was a messenger of God.

As expected, my story never made it past the school’s committee. They thought it a bit controversial, which, coincidentally, was the point. The creative writing teacher told me after very quietly after graduation that she thought my story should have gone to the contest.

And Ms. Popularity said the same, bless her heart and tight little bottom — both reasons for popularity, for sure.

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