Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Review: In Watermelon Sugar


As a person whose literature preferences skew largely British Regency-Victorian era, American beat writing is about as far from "myself" as I can get. So I decided to give it a shot. Of course, I read Ginsberg and Kerouac in college for classes, and basically hated it. But I decided to go for Brautigan this time, in this short, weird novel (almost novella?), In Watermelon Sugar. 

How do I describe this book? The fact that a book can't be summarized in 2 sentences almost certainly means it's good. I'll give it a shot. This book takes place in a dystopian world, in a town called Watermelon Sugar. Watermelon sugar is also, incidentally, the thing that people use for their primary building and fueling materials, along with trout. The narrator is an unnamed man who takes us through a strange, skewed history of Watermelon Sugar and its lodge/main gathering place, iDeath, as well as the story of the one rebel named inBOIL. inBOIL deserts Watermelon Sugar and lives in a place called the Forgotten Works. The narrator's ex-wife/girlfriend, Margaret, obsessively visited Forgotten Works and collected items she found there from the world before its state in the book. 

Also, the sun changes color every day and affects things like what kind of watermelons grow, and if sound works or not.

This book is trippy, but not for the sake of being trippy. It left me with the impression you get when you wake up from a really vivid set of disjointed yet interconnected dreams. Like you can't really remember all of it, just pieces, and you know it means something deeper but you're not quite sure what.

What I liked best about this book is that Brautigan uses the best tool available at his disposal: his reader's imaginations. He never explicitly says what happened to the world. He never tells us the narrator's name. He doesn't say whether Margaret had an affair with inBOIL or not. He doesn't explain why inBOIL hates iDeath, Watermelon Sugar, or exactly what point he was trying to make with his rebellion. He doesn't say that the tigers that eat people (including the narrator's parents) are actual tigers--they can walk, talk, and use instruments like humans. Are they feline, or cannibals?

Who really knows?

The imagination will always supply us with far more whimsical, fantastical, and horrible things than the written word can outright explain. Brautigan exploits this fact beautifully. In a time when everything is laid out plainly for us (usually in 140 characters or 7 seconds or less), reading this book felt like a weird bubble bath for my brain, and I'd do it again in a second. 

It was very short and the prose is simple but stunning. Absolutely do recommend. 


"My Name.
I guess you are kind of curious as to who I am, but I am one of those who do not have a regular name. My name depends on you. Just call me whatever is in your mind.
If you are thinking about something that happened a long time ago: Somebody asked you a question and you did not know the answer.
That is my name.
Perhaps it was raining very hard.
That is my name.
Or somebody wanted you to do something. You did it. Then they told you what you did was wrong—“Sorry for the mistake,”—and you had to do something else.
That is my name.
Perhaps it was a game you played when you were a child or something that came idly into your mind when you were old and sitting in a chair near the window.
That is my name.
Or you walked someplace. There were flowers all around.
That is my name.
Perhaps you stared into a river. There as something near you who loved you. They were about to touch you. You could feel this before it happened. Then it happened.
That is my name.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment