Richard Brautigan: Resurgence of an American absurdist

“Richard Brautigan would have turned 85 this year had he not steeled himself against the barrel of a .44 Magnum revolver in a remote Californian cabin on September 16, 1984. The American author and humourist, best known for his 1967 classic Trout Fishing in America, died like one of the oddly drawn characters in his novels, in that strange and lonely place between the tragic and the absurd. The writer’s body decayed on the floor of his log cabin for several weeks until he was finally found, almost unrecognisable, by a pair of friends. A culmination of mental health issues, alcoholism and a receding literary relevance had been the undoing of the post-Beat author. He took his life aged 49. Brautigan, who began his career as a poet, published 10 novels in his lifetime, with an 11th, An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey, having been published posthumously. A true master of stylish deadpan humour to whom narrative conventions were anathema, Brautigan’s writing reads like a Salvador Dali painting: a colourful, warped world where whisky-drinking geese exist, giant bird shadows are attached to men in debt and ice-cold sombreros fall from clear desert skies. His published novels include In Watermelon Sugar, The Hawkline Monster, Sombrero Fallout, A Confederate General from Big Sur, Dreaming of Babylon and Trout Fishing in America. The latter is a freewheeling novel stylised in epigrammatic vignettes. Dancing in the negative space between novel and poetry, the book has sold more than four million copies since its publication and brought him to the attention of the literary world. After reading the manuscript, American poet Billy Collins believed it ‘…was our very own Alice in Wonderland. And Brautigan was our Lewis Carroll…’. Albert H. Norman praised Trout Fishing in America in Newsweek as combining ‘…the surface finality of Hemingway, the straightforwardness of Sherwood Anderson and the synesthetic guile of Baudelaire.’ Brautigan’s writing found great success offshore, and his absurdist takes on Middle America proved to be a hit in Japan and France, but the writer eventually felt the brunt of American critics who slammed his minimal style for slightness and scolded his humour as being naif. Brautigan spent a career determined not to be hung up on those hang-ups, until he was. While his work might be difficult to find in an Australian bookstore, there is a case to be made for the writer’s re-emerging relevance. In the towering pantheon of American humorists — from Mark Twain to Phillip Roth — few so successfully skewered the self and Middle America as did Brautigan. His wildly surrealist adventures through an America on the verge of a technological revolution are arguably without parallel. …”
The Australian
Walking through Richard Brautigan’s Antique Shop: Brautigan’s Relevance in the Contemporary College Classroom

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