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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"In Watermelon Sugar", Richard Brautigan's utopia

In Watermelon Sugar- Richard Brautigan

Some novels are very easy to review. Some others are quite hard. And then, you have Richard Brautigan’s books. “In Watermelon Sugar” might be his hardest work to rate. But I will try.

Brautigan, one of our favourite nuts, said he based the book, published in 1968, on his life in Bolinas during the 60s, a place known for their semi-communal, isolated lifestyle. But I’ll bet you anything Bolinas has nothing to do with the unique landscape where “In Watermelon Sugar” takes place. Let me “welcome” you to iDEATH.

iDEATH seems to the main house/meeting point of some sort of commune where things are made of watermelon sugar, pine wood and stone, each day has a different colored sun and some disturbing things happens. The worst of them, explained by the narrator, being the tension with inBOIL, a man who rebelled against iDEATH, living on the Forgotten Works, a close and forbidden area, where they make whiskey and keep the remnants of a former civilization. Confused? We haven’t finished yet. There are also “The Tigers”, who were (maybe not) real tigers, that were annihilated by people, violence and many deaths, and two love stories, one that ended due to the dramatic turn of events between iDEATH and inBOIL, and another ongoing while the narrator digs deep in the account of the story he is making (he is trying to write). Oh, I forgot to mention the last tiger was killed on a spot that later evolved into a trout farm.

How to interpret “In Watermelon Sugar”? I don’t really know, but the truth is that I keep thinking from time to time, almost two weeks after having finished the book. So at least one thing can be said for sure: its and addictive (admittedly, strangely addictive) work. iDEATH’s environment and origin (the battle against “The Tigers”) could be seen as a post-apocalyptic new beginning for the world. This sort of paradise, where things are made thanks to the interaction with nature, where there’s no money and no possessions, is threatened by inBOIL, “keepers” of the memory (the stuff) of the past civilization. Margaret, the narrator's previous “lover” looks like a very important character to me, representing the person that, raised within iDEATH idiosyncrasy, is tempted by inBOIL’s forgotten stuff. A revision of Eve’s myth betraying the garden Eden? I’m very eager to read your interpretation.

With its brutal end and confusing development, “In Watermelon Sugar” is not a book for anyone. I personally think the absence of humour, one of Brautigan’s trademarks, makes it less enjoyable. The feeling of absurdity and surrealism, ever-present in his books, is still there, but this time, with the metaphorical/allegorical resource, adopts a much “altered” voice. It’s still Brautigan’s deformed mirror, and his braveness and ability to at least try to reinvent literature. But I miss his ability for making me laugh while he shows how stupid we, humans, have become.

SCORE: 6,25/10

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