Darryl Ponicsan's review of 'The Tokyo-Montana Express'
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'Tokyo-Montana' line runs on uncoupled ideas

by Darryl Ponicsan?

I giggled my way through "Trout Fishing in America," Brautigan's first book, in 1969, with great buoyancy of spirit. I couldn't crack a smile anywhere in this one, called a book on its cover, a novel in the publisher's pitch.

Brautigan was among the first, and now must surely be among the last, of the San Francisco flower children. He's a little older now, but still void of malice, benign as a blossom. He has to work hard to muster anger of any sort, even against the telephone company. His charm is in his dumb loving passivity and his almost universal compassion, not to mention his disarming honesty — he admits to a great fondness for television and the National Inquirer. But either I've outgrown Brautigan or he's lost his wit. An unhappy answer either way it falls.

"The Tokyo-Montana Express," as a title, is a metaphorical stretching exercise, straining for a unity that does not exist in the material itself. All it really means is that Brautigan spends a lot of time in Japan when he is not in Montana or San Francisco, a locale omitted from the title but prominent in the work. The book is not a novel, not poetry, not a collection of short stories. What it is, I suspect, is Brautigan's journal.

Here is an entire chapter entitled "Football":

"The confidence that he got by being selected all-state in football lasted him all of his life. He was killed in an automobile accident when he was 22. He was buried on a rainy afternoon. Halfway through the burial service the minister forgot what he was talking about. Everybody stood there at the grave waiting for him to remember.

"Then he remembered.

"'This young man,' he said, 'played football.'"

Am I missing something?

The other chapters are more personal, when Brautigan reminisces, as in "17 Dead Cats":

"When I was 12 years old in 1947, I had 17 cats. There were tom cats, and mother cats, and kittens, I used to catch fish for them from a pond that was a mile away. The kittens liked to play with a string under the blue sky.

"Oregon 1947 - California 1978."

Or he falls into casual conversations with near-strangers who make statements for which he can find no appropriate response. A Japanese poet tells him, "I live with three people over 80 years old." The poet and Brautigan stare at each other silently. The time seems endless.

One almost whimpers for a bit more, a little character development even, something to help bring an emotion or idea to Brautigan's observations.

"I spend a lot of my life interested in little things..." he tells us unnecessarily. So do the wet souls on Skid Row, many of whom can sustain an idea for a longer period of time and be more entertaining in the bargain.

The peak of tension on the Tokyo-Montana line comes when Brautigan makes a decision to go out to his Montana barn and change two light bulbs to ones of higher wattage. Even taking as a given the long dull winters in Montana, following him on this chore leaves the reader, well, unilluminated.

The best that can be said for these wee snippets is that they are harmless and inoffensive, occasionally even cute, with the possible exception of one that equates the loss of President Kennedy with Brautigan's discovery that his favorite all-night restaurant no longer serves pancakes between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.

The Oregonian?
November 16, 1980: C4

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