Lorna Sage's review of 'So the Wind'
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Gone Fishing Again

by Lorna Sage?

The contemporary muse is notorious for playing around, so it is perhaps not entirely shocking that she seems to have supplied Richard Brautigan with the same plot for his "new" novel that she produced for Kurt Vonnegut's? a very short time ago. I mean the one about the narrator who shot someone by accident when he was 12 and has been trying to rewrite destiny ever since. It's not a case of jokey plagiarism either — more a matter of a limited mythic repertoire. This particular plot-item is called something like The End of American Innocence, and I suppose the real wonder is that the shamless muse hasn't thrust the same gun into the hands of other ironical conscripts as well. Joseph Heller, say ...

Doubtless she'll get around to it. Meanwhile, to establish the genre, this is Brautigan's guilty narrator in So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away:

Too bad I couldn't grab the bullet out the air and put it back into the .22 rifle barrel and have it spiral itself back down the barrel...

And this is Vonnegut's in Deadeye Dick:

I could let down the hammer gently, without firing the cartridge. And then I could withdraw the bolt ... but I squeezed the trigger instead.

The strategy is to announce the crime at the beginning (original sin), and then to try to salvage a shadowy "freedom" — and an even more dubious "innocence" — out of the predestined mess, despite all.

Here, Brautigan's distinctive tone takes him off in his own direction, into the kind of exiguous lyricism that established him (with Trout Fishing in America) as the first of the Hippies — or was it the last of the Beats? His evocation of his narrator's 1940s boyhood ("My ear pressed up against the past as if to the wall of a house that no longer exists") is stubbornly idyllic; long, aimless days spent fishing, scavenging for beer bottles, or listening to the various derelict grown-ups who share something of children's wise idleness. His central image is a fish-crazy couple who transport their entire living room (sofa, armchairs, family photos) to the bank of the pond every summer evening, and play house there like benevolent, protective giants.

It's against this "fairy tale" tableau that he sets the story of his young hero's horrible mistake, the fatal shooting. Playing with guns is, he implies, what we all know already about America, what his narrator can never forget. Its other side, nearly lost to memory, is this land of imaginative free enterprise, peopled with harmless eccentrics, way of history's beaten track.

The Observer
April 17, 1983: 32.

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