Book Review: Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

Trout Fishing in America (1967) by Richard Brautigan

Trout Fishing in America

Where to begin…A friend of mine, Larry, exposed me to Richard Brautigan about 15 years ago.  It has been an on again off again relationship with Brautigan from that time on.  Not because my enthusiasm for his writing has waxed and waned but because there is only so much to read.  Richard Brautigan has left this world for the trout streams of the next – there will be no more from him.  I need to pace myself. There are not many books that I have read more than once – Trout Fishing in America is one of them. It has been long enough since the last reading, and I’ve forgotten enough that I can appreciate it anew.

Don’t let the title confuse you – this book is not a “how-to”, “where-to” fly fishing book.   It’s more of a collection of rambling prose poems that revolve around trout fishing.  Try to imagine if you took  Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, John Gierach, and maybe just a bit of Gabriel García Márquez and mixed them in a blender – the result might be something like Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America.

One of the early passages begins like this:

One spring afternoon as a child in the strange town of Port­land, I walked down to a different street corner, and saw a row of old houses, huddled together like seals on a rock. Then there was a long field that came sloping down off a hill. The field was covered with green grass and bushes. On top of the hill there was a grove of tall, dark trees. At a distance I saw a waterfall come pouring down off the hill. It was long and white and I could almost feel its cold spray.

There must be a creek there, I thought, and it probably has trout in it.

As you read this you have a feeling where it might be going.    A nice recollection of a formative childhood experience wherein the author’s trout fishing journey begins.  But, you’re reading Richard Brautigan, so the story takes a left turn and you end up somewhere completely different:

But as I got closer to the creek I could see that something was wrong. The creek did not act right. There was a strangeness to it. There was a thing about its motion that was wrong. Finally I got close enough to see what the trouble was.

The waterfall was just a flight of white wooden stairs leading up to a house in the trees.

I stood there for a long time, looking up and looking down, following the stairs with my eyes, having trouble believing.
Then I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood.

Well – Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America is not for everyone. I imagine Brautigan’s books are polarizing – you either love them or hate them. I don’t think they allow for much middle ground.

Normally, in a book review, I’d give you a link to a place to buy it. But not for this book. Sure you could go to Amazon or ebay – but the most fitting way to find Brautigan’s books is to stumble upon them in a used book store. Maybe you’ll even find Trout Fishing in America mis-filed in the Fishing section. Maybe you’ll see it from a distance and mistake it for a trout stream and only when you get closer will you realize that it is a book. And then you’ll read it and realize it is more like a trout stream.

5 Comments on Book Review: Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

  1. OK, You got me. I’m gonna bite. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. I don’t think I have the patience for the “stumble across” method (I’ll check our one and only used book store first).

    I couldn’t help but notice that the first couple of lines you quoted had a Hemingwayesqueness (ohhhhh….sorry about that) about them. The repetition of certain words I think is what did it.

  2. I did read through some of the info on the site you linked to. He seems like a character. I think I’ve been plenty forewarned–don’t worry about “steering me wrong.”

    I finally got around to Goodreads and “accepted” too. I’ve been a neglectful webby lately and I’m trying to make up for it.

  3. I remember coming across one of Brautigan’s books when in my teens. The book was In Watermelon Sugar. From there I just slowly took my time to discover what he had written. Which included books of poetry. Sadly not enough people know of his contribution to American Literature.

what say you?