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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Watermelon Sugar (1968) by Richard Brautigan

This picture of Brautigan and Hilda Hoffman was included on the cover of the original book.
Book Review
In Watermelon Sugar (1968)
by Richard Brautigan

  In Watermelon Sugar is a controversial selection for Richard Brautigan on the 1001 Books list.  He is best known for his 1967 novel, Trout Fishing in America, which maintains a certain status as a fair representative of the literature of the peak hippie period in the late 1960's.   Trout Fishing in America did not make the 1001 Books list, but In Watermelon Sugar did.  In Watermelon is like a combination of Beckett and Heinlein, with one foot in the world of the avant garde and the other in genre fiction.  It is difficult to summarize In Watermelon Sugar, it may be a story about people living in a post-apocalyptic world that only partially remembers our present.  It could also be a parallel universe, or another place and time entirely.

   The concrete details that are provided appear to function according to surreal or dream logic, the world is made of watermelon sugar, which is made at a factory in different colors.  Talking tigers came and killed and ate the narrators parents, but also helped him with his math problems.   There is no other way to read these details without thinking about dada or surrealism, both of which were major points of interest for the San Francisco beat culture Brautigan was firmly ensconced in when he wrote In Watermelon Sugar.

  Brautigan's explicit identification with the later stages of the Beat literary movement in San Francisco have perhaps hurt his long-term reputation, but Trout Fishing in America maintains it's popularity with certain audiences for American literature.   In Watermelon has less iconic status but it is likely more "out there."

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