Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Confederate General From Big Sur - Richard Brautigan


Having recently been sexually assaulted by Nick Cave, I was in need of some love, tenderness and understanding so who better to turn to than Richard Brautigan?
A Confederate General From Big Sur was Brautigan's first published novel though it only came to the attention of a significant readership on the coat-tails of Trout Fishing In America, his second and much more successful novel. Brautigan is the narrator going under the name of 'Jesse' and he relates the story of a summer spent with his friend Lee Mellon (the Confederate General of the title) in a rudimentary shack on the cliffs at Big Sur, on the Californian Coast. He records various episodes of their time spent there, forming an almost straightforward narrative which for a Brautigan book is quite unusual.

The two of them live in abject poverty, existing on a diet of sea snails and dough. At night they're kept awake by the sound of croaking frogs and the only people who seem to pass by are thieves in the night trying to steal what little gasoline they have in their truck.
In a way they're like children playing in the dirt and all that keeps them going are their eccentricities and their imaginations. They're eventually joined by two girls, one a prostitute (with a heart of gold) and the other a college drop-out; then finally by another friend of Lee Mellon's who's carrying a briefcase containing $100,000 but who's also going through a mental breakdown.

It's all very amusing and entertaining in a light-hearted way, without too much fuss made about such things as 'likelihood' and 'probability'. For example, what might be the chances of them finding a bag of marijuana stuffed behind a rock in the fireplace? Pretty slim, you might imagine, but that's what they do which is alright because it leads to them all getting massively stoned, which makes for another episode for Brautigan to write about.

When Jesse (or Brautigan) first meets the college drop-out girl she asks him 'What do you do?' and he replies 'I live in Big Sur'. She asks him the same question a couple of times more to which he replies 'I'm unemployed' and jokingly 'I'm a minister'. What's interesting is that he never once says that he's a writer.
A little later on as they're driving back to Big Sur, Henry Miller makes a cameo appearance: 'We drove by Henry Miller's mailbox. He was waiting for his mail in that old Cadillac he had in those days. "There's Henry Miller," I said. "Oh," she said. With every passing moment my liking for her flowered another time. Not that I had anything against Henry Miller, but like a storm of flowers remembered during a revolution I grew to like her more and more.'

A Confederate General From Big Sur contains all the ingredients for what makes Richard Brautigan books so likeable: idiosyncrasy, innocence, imagination, unconventionality, surrealism, oddness, etc, etc. It also contains a very good ending or rather, it contains a very good infinite number of endings. 186,000 endings per second to be precise. And if you know anything about Brautigan as a writer you'd know this is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense when reading him.

Richard Brautigan is no longer with us so after sponging down with one of his books I fear it's going to be back to being sexually (and psychologically) assaulted by Nick Cave and his ilk again from now on...
John Serpico

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