Richard Brautigan

Trout Fishing in America

I came to Trout Fishing in America, an apparently legendary book which I had never heard of but which has been reissued, by a writer I also never heard of and who died young by his own hand thirty years ago, expecting to be ensnared by a world not too dissimilar from In Our Time or A River Runs Through It, a novella which I have read and re-read too many times to be good for me.

But hey, if you like fishing, and specifically fly fishing, there isn’t nearly enough fishing literature out there to satiate the perennial desire to know more about the silver torpedoes ghosting beneath a ruffled river surface, like How to Fish by Chris Yates and Reflections on the Beauty of Angling by Alexander Schwab.

Trout Fishing in America is not A River Runs Through It. It is not a guide to fishing. It is not a manual to help you dream of fish running in spate rivers in the spring, or a step by step introduction to guiding transparent gut through the eye of a hook coated in pheasant or rabbit hackle.

What it is though is an opportunity to spend time in the company of a truly original and imaginative prosaist, who can conjure an image with the poetic flourish of Walt Whitman (‘It lay there white belly up like a school bus covered with snow.’), while nailing a line with all the economy of a Hemingway or a Mailer: ‘Worsewick Horse Springs was nothing fancy. Somebody put some boards across the creek. That was it.’

It has been said that only a hedonist could cram so much life onto a single page, and Brautigan was one of the most prominent and prolific chroniclers on the counter culture in America, on a par with Kerouac and Burrows: he was unusual in that he was prodigious. Ten novels and ten collections of poetry.

He was found dead in 1984, just 49, beside a bottle of booze and a .44 calibre gun. Trout Fishing in America lives up to a Brautigan truism: the more preposterous the situation, the funnier the book. The similes and metaphors come at a rate of knots, but they always seem appropriate.

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