Sunday, January 8, 2017

Trout Fishing in America

Here's a review of a classic book from the 1960's, which I was inspired to read after finishing my novel. I'll be reading (and reviewing) more of these counterculture classics as I get closer to the publication date of The Bear Who Broke The World.


In the late 60’s and early 70’s, what self-identifying stalwart of the hippie lifestyle didn’t own a copy of this series of observations for the counterculture generation? Published in 1967, Brautigan generated simple musings in his own style, while borrowing heavily from Anderson, Hemingway, Heller, Kesey and Vonnegut. Delivering short chapters with the unifying thread of trout fishing, the author explores the outrageous with the commonplace, the placid with the disturbed.

A first-person account of life on the road, a postmodern take on Kerouac’s tale of the Beats, Trout dips in and out of small towns where Americana litter the streets and homes of a changing country. With chapter titles like “A Waldon Pond for Winos” and “Trout Fishing With the FBI,” the book plays with ideas of nature and freedom, addiction and authority with a kind of whimsy that underlies the gravity of idealism lost. In the narrator’s travels, he finds that nothing is quite as it was, while the present has yet to fully form into something coherent that serves as a replacement of what came before.

Name-checking Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson Algren, John Dillinger, Hemingway, and the blues song C.C. Rider in the chapter titles, Brautigan traces the familiar and the influential figures of the past with a reverence that carries a bit of nostalgia, as well. America is changing so quickly, he seems to be saying, that it’s crucial to remember the importance of the early part of the twentieth century. When he writes, “Along with World War II and the Andrews sisters, the Zoot suit had been very popular in the early 40’s,” Brautigan is singing the virtues of a lost era, one that defined an earlier generation and was as much about fighting for freedom and singing for joy as it was about racial identity and the inequality and violence that surrounded it. When he decides that, “I guess they were all passing fads,” it is a lamentation, the realization that everything substantial and once-profound becomes simply what was. These parts of history are meant to be pushed aside, in order to make room for the next transgression or life-changing event in a century filled with them.

Populated with characters that come and go and then appear again, slightly changed, the slim book attempts to make sense of the old and the new, written with equal parts humanity and satire. There is a curiosity at work here, a wonderment that is characteristically American and entrenched in values that must have seemed antiquated in a world where Vietnam and the assassinations of MLK & RFK, along with the corruption of Watergate, made rose-colored reflection something unworthy and frivolous. Where there is definitely a rejection of the racist, stubborn, afraid-of-change belief system that permeates these small towns that Brautigan’s narrator discovers, there is also an embrace of nature and its singular purity. As long as trout can still be caught in the lakes and rivers of America—a simple pleasure that is not attached to politics or economics or human strife–then perhaps the evolving world, with all its social and cultural turmoil, can be found to be bearable.

Maybe what Brautigan is trying to express in his book is that the consequential “fads” of the present will always give way to the next historic moment or state of mind, but those rivers full of trout will continue to run, a small, indelible fact of life that will remain constant and unchanged for this and future generations to come.

Monday, January 2, 2017

End of Year Wrap-Up (2016)

So the good news is, 2016 was the year I finally completed my novel The Bear Who Broke The World and readied it for publication with Wheeler Street Press - it will be released Summer 2017. 

Here’s a sneak look at the cover:

The bad news is that all of that time spent with the novel took me away from reading other books. But I did manage to finish a few, and here are the best of the bunch I read in 2016:

1)      A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway -- the first book I read in the new year, and my favorite. Chronicling his early years in Paris -- hanging out in the cafes and salons with literary luminaries Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, and his friend/foe F. Scott Fitzgerald -- Papa writes about his first wife and child with the same fervor as he does about his writing life.

2)      DEADWOOD by Pete Dexter -- a very close 2nd, this rich, detailed, beautifully constructed novel of the Dakota Territories in 1876 is filled with memorable characters whose stories interweave through the Black Hills in fresh and unexpected ways. The prose is glorious, every sentence filled with wit and style.

3)      TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA by Richard Brautigan -- a counterculture classic, I read this as part of my goal to delve into the 60s and 70s books that influenced the fictional characters of my own novel. Brautigan’s book of short chapters is an exploration of America, the changes affecting small towns and big cities alike

4)      CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC by Claudia Rankine -- the Keynote speaker at the 2016 AWP conference here in L.A., this amazing prose poet delivers a book filled with anguish, anger, hard truths and hope.

5)      THE WHITES by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt) -- rounding out this short list is a crime potboiler by the author of one of my favorite books, CLOCKERS. This latest effort by Price feels a bit lightweight and redundant by comparison, but it still moves at a quick and sometimes lively pace.

2017 already looks a bit more promising, as I’m halfway through Pulitzer Prize-winning THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen and just began THE GIRLS by Emma Cline. Looking forward to reading THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH, the debut novel by my fellow MPWer Lindsey Lee Johnson (*), as well as finally tackling Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON and THE CITY ON FIRE by Garth Risk Hallberg.

And very much looking forward to seeing my long-in-progress novel finally in print this year.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a book-happy new year!