Richard Brautigan published his novella, Trout Fishing in America, in 1967. It is a spectacular piece of American literature riding the the theme of trout fishing as a backdrop for thinly veiled and humorous critiques of mainstream American society and culture. In addition to trout, other symbols, including a mayonnaise jar, a Ben Franklin statue in San Francisco, and creeks, come up again throughout the book.
The cover of the book is a photograph of Richard Brautigan and a friend identified as Michaela Le Grand, whom he called his “Muse” and whose musedom inspired one of his most erotic poems. The photo was taken in San Francisco’s Washington Square Park in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue that plays pivotal roles in the book. Brautigan wrote the majority of Trout Fishing in America during the summer 1961, while camping with his wife, Virginia Alder, and daughter, Ianthe, in Idaho’s Stanley Basin. According to Virginia, she and Brautigan bought a “ten year old Plymouth station wagon” using a $350.00 tax refund. This wagon would carry them across campgrounds and through multiple creeks.
There is so much to say about Brautigan- his role or misrole in the Beat movement, his dude-defying personal history, the way his hair poufs out around his ears when it is long…. But what I really wanted to share was a few of my favorite excerpts from one of my favorite books in the world. My underlying premise is that it’s never a mistake to share decent excerpts and fresh pieces of chewing gum. Forgive me for picking and choosing on the grounds that a gift horse is nice even without any teeth.
The creek was made narrow by little green trees that grew too close together. The creek was like 12,845 telephone booths in a row with high Victorian ceilings and all the doors taken off and all the backs of the booths knocked out.
Sometimes when I went fishing in there, I felt just like a telephone repairman, even though I did not look like one. I was only a kid covered with fishing tackle, but in some strange way by going in there and catching a few trout, I kept the telephone in service. I was an asset to society.
I waded about seventy-three telephone booths in. I caught two trout in a little hole that was like a wagon wheel. It was one of my favorite holes, and always good for a trout or two. I always like to think of that hole as a kind of pencil sharpener. I put my reflexes in and they came back out with a good point on them.
There was a bowl of goldfish next to the bed, next to the gun. How religious and intimate the goldfish and the gun looked together.
They had a good world going for them. He had such a soft voice and manner that he worked as a private nurse for rich mental patients. He made good money when he worked, but sometimes he was sick himself. He was kind of run-down. She was still working for the telephone company, but she wasn’t doing that night work anymore.
Sources and resources which have furthered my education on this subject include Brautigan’s website, a 2009 interview with ex-wife Virginia Alder Aste, the website of professor and author Ianthe Brautigan-Swensen currently at Santa Rosa College, a delicious post at the Media Funhouse blog, the glittering online Brautigan poetry archive, a free download of Brautigan reading his work at Breakfast in the Ruins, and printable PDF excerpts from Trout Fishing in America for your morning coffee experience.