Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Reading: Trout Fishing in America

"The old drunk told me about trout fishing. When he could talk, he had a
way of describing trout as if they were a precious and intelligent metal.”
―Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing In America

Despite having read Trout Fishing in America nearly four times since I originally purchased it as part of a Richard Brautigan anthology (along with The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster and In Watermelon Sugar) wa-a-a-a-ay in 1990, I have yet to have taken an actual trout fishing expedition along any of the rivers or creeks mentioned in Brautigan's book, I reckon I have been trout fishing my whole life. Or maybe not. Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, originally published in 1967, is not a book about fishing. Or, maybe it is.

Extremely figurative and abstract in its narrative, TFiA is a novella consisting of a series of loosely connected anecdotes that is best experienced rather than summarized. In the interest of prompting others to read it, however, I will offer the brief synopsis offered by Wikipedia: "The phrase 'Trout Fishing in America' is used in various ways: it is the title of the book, a character, a hotel, the act of fishing itself, a modifier (one character is named 'Trout Fishing in America Shorty'), etc. Brautigan uses the theme of trout fishing as a point of departure for thinly veiled and often comical critiques of mainstream American society and culture."

Perhaps my own desire to occasionally re-engage TFiA is because it cannot be quickly recounted in a short Sparknotes entry or quickly compiled bullet-points. Employing language and structure reminiscent the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire or Robert Bly, Brautigan explores the internal and external cultural landscapes of the West. The cover, with support from the descriptive "chapters" explaining its inclusion within, grounds it in Sixties San Francisco though the inspiration is from other distant locales. The typography and physical structure of the novel (as is the case with most "Brautigans") carries a level of meaning. Employing a specific font, a quality which is not updated or altered with subsequent publishing--further suggesting a purposeful intent for its use by the author--lends a somewhat "antiquated" feeling to the proceedings therein.

While not an easy read, Brautigan's ability to connect well-turned and evocative phrases rewards the reader by bringing the reader on an alternately satirical and personal journey through his America. If the whole piece is not your cup of tea, especially on first blush, I would recommend sampling a few of the more clearly related chapters as individual anecdotes, in particular, the cumulative tale of the "legless, screaming, middle-aged wino" Trout Fishing in America Shorty, who is central to "The Shipping of Trout Fishing in America Shorty to Nelson Algren" (pp.45-7), "Footnote to 'The Shipping of Trout Fishing in America Shorty to Nelson Algren'" (page 63), and "The Last Mention of Trout Fishing in America Shorty" (pp. 96-7).

A unique reading experience, Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America is available for borrowing as part of the larger anthology at most quality libraries.

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