At the moment, our book group chooses books by picking a key word for members to make pitches based on – we’re currently working our way through some colours. For ‘green’ we had a varied group of suggestions:
- Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins – a memoir about two brothers rescued from care in the 1960s who started gardening.
- The Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan – 62 pieces of short fiction by one of the Beats.
- From Green to Blue by Jonathan Cox – memoir about becoming a policeman in East London a few decades ago.
- The Quiet American by Graham Greene
and the winner this time was my suggestion, drawn at random from those four above:
Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan
A few years ago, I dipped my toe into reading Brautigan with his novel Sombrero Fallout. I always planned to read more, as I found him an intriguing writer and different to the other Beat authors I’d tried before.
This collection of Brautigan’s short fiction was originally published in 1971. The stories are collected from the early 1960s onwards, and are mainly set in and around Tacoma in Washington state where Brautigan grew up; San Francisco provides the backdrop for others. They’re his only collection of short fiction and are considered to be quite autobiographical.
They vary in length: many are just a vignette of a single page, some extend to a handful of pages, but one of my favourites, The Scarlatti Tilt, is just three lines long on the page…
‘It’s very difficult to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.’ That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.
That one is atypical of the rest though. The majority are autobiographical, or written with himself as narrator. They range from funny, to sad, to absurd, to downright poetic and full of wistfulness. Certain themes repeat themselves – the geographical, I’ve already mentioned, but pursuits such as fishing crop up several times, as do Halloween, bus journeys, and to use the Beach Boys’ title, California Girls. In Holiday in Germany, a Volkswagen is driving alongside a bus:
The German boys picked up on this instantly and their faces were pressed against the window, participating in the age-old Candy-Store-Sex-Window Syndrome.
This time the girl looked up and saw the German boys staring down, all big smiles and flirting. The girl returned a kind of ambiguous half-smile. She was a perfect freeway Mona Lisa.
I loved that last short sentence. Other favourites include, The Gathering of a Californian about how most Californians come from someplace else; Talk Show in which he describes getting a new radio and remembering his family’s first radio; and The LIterary Life in California / 1964 – a bittersweet tale about other’s experiences with his books of poetry. There are metafictional touches too, several stories referring to Brautigan’s novel Trout Fishing in America.
Not all of these ‘short fictions’ were fully formed stories; some were fragments you thought were going somewhere but ended with a non-sequitur, or observational streams of consciousness that felt like flash fiction. However, unlike Kerouac, the writing was often crafted very beautifully – well he was a poet too. I really enjoyed this book. It’s left some enduring images, and made me keen to read more by Brautigan. Those of our book group who read it, also appreciated his poetic turn of phrase. (8.5/10)
Source: Own copy from the TBR.
RIchard Brautigan, Revenge of the Lawn (1971), Canongate paperback, 160 pages.
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