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Saturday, May 19, 2012

"A Confederate General from Big Sur", a tale of the pre-hippie America

A Confederate General from Big Sur- Richard Brautigan

Reading Richard Brautigan is such an experience. He is not your average writer, in terms of writing style, structure, storytelling or novel conception. You might have the feeling you don't have any clue where is the novel driving you to, but the ride is so unique and surreal the final destination is completely secondary. Maybe "A Confederate General from Big Sur" is not as explosive as "Trout Fishing in America", but the result is also pure Brautigan, therefore, a joy to read.

Don't get its title confuse you. This is not a novel on the Civil War. But it deals with a more recent period of the USA history: the 60s. With being young and trying to achieve freedom while confronting society and oneself. Brautigan wrote, in his messy and hilarious way, about the pre-hippy era.

But Brautigan never preach, or pontificates. His weapons are surrealism, humour and chaos. No one uses metaphors and similes like he did, and the scenes, while maybe disjointed one from the other, are powerful and enchanting in their own. "A Confederate"'s premise and is simple. Jesse tells us his story/adventure with his pal Lee Mellon, searching for information about Mellon's grandfather, supposedly a general in the Civil War...  But that idea is quickly forgotten, replaced by a tale of the 60s in the Californian landscape. Being Brautigan, the plot and structure is still quite linear. But that doesn't mean he wasn't attempting to subvert the boundaries of literature. So if you were looking for a canonical book, with a defined plot and a satisfying end, this is not for you. Here you will have, more than 100.000 ends. Literally.

It was his first novel, so you can see some confusion, some struggle between his striking lyricism and experimental treatment of fiction and a more traditional prose. But despite its shortcomings, "A Confederate"  offers a rewarding dose of Brautigan's freedom, of Brautigan's reinvention. The reinvention of literature. The reinvention of history, thanks to his "crazy saint" characters, experimenting with free love, drinking, drugs and a sense of rebellion, living and writing their own past and present. The reinvention of humour, used, like Valle-Inclán did, as a factor to deform and question the absurdities of reality. At the end, Brautigan's vision wasn't a happy one, but a very sceptical, even scared look of a world that was becoming more hostile for humanity, thanks to the behaviour of humans. But his books were capable of exposing that contradiction while making us smile.

SCORE: 6,75/10

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