Today I reread Richard Brautigan
's 1964 novel, A Confederate General From Big Sur
. I only keep books that I really like on my bookshelf. The rest make their way to Goodwill
or the wife's next garage sale
. But it has been nearly two decades since I read it and frankly I didn't recall it very well at all.
So I was happily surprised to find myself guffawing and snorting with laughter. There were long stretches where I'd barely recover from one sentence only to have the next one choking me all over again.
Brautigan's word play, his musical but meaningless non-sequiturs, his loopy metaphors all hit my funny bone with marksman-like precision.
I liked it enough that I decided to node it. So to prepare, I went and found a half-dozen reviews from 1965 and read them. None of the reviews was complimentary. Most dismissed it out of hand.
This was Brautigan's first novel. The reviewers all chorused how he was a "beat" writer -- as in beatnik. They couldn't stop themselves from comparing him to Jack Kerouac or commenting negatively on Brautigan's use of profanity -- not to mention the drugs and casual sex.
I was stunned reading the reviews. Jesus H. Christ boys, you should have bought a clue. The world had changed, was still changing right in front of you, and you never even noticed. C'mon, Donald Barthelme was already getting his work published in The New Yorker, John Barth was being nominated for National Book Awards, Calvino and Borges were making international names for themselves -- was the handwriting on the wall or not?
Fer chrissakes, did you think James Joyce was a figment of someone's imagination? That D.H.Lawrence, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, and Tom Stoppard would go away if you pretended they didn't exist?
But I digress. The book was fantastic. I'll have to go back and reread Trout Fishing In America. I seem to recall that it was even better.
I may skip the reviews though.