Trout Fishing in America

by Richard Brautigan
(1967)
   The best-known work of Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America is often considered the novel that best captures the zeitgeist of the social, cultural, and political change that was centered in San Francisco, California, during the late 1960s which was known as the counterculture or the Summer of Love. Trout Fishing in America features an anonymous narrator who relates witty observations and stories through an episodic narrative structure that is full of unconventional but vivid images that are powered by whimsy and metaphor. The result, says John Cooley, is a “highly stylized kaleidoscope of little fictions” that seem to suggest a transformative healing for the American pastoral ideal which had been lost to commercialism, environmental degradation, and social decay. Cooley notes that the idea of trout fishing in America represents the book itself being written by Brautigan, a character in the novel, a place, an outdoor sport, a religion, and a state of mind. Despite lacking sustained narrative, plot or characterization and despite its short length, Trout Fishing in America yielded to many critics and readers alike a sense of immediate satisfaction, an in-the-moment thrill that required no context or frame of reference other than the power of imagination. Newton Smith called Trout Fishing in America “one of the first popular representations of the postmodern novel” and said that it altered the shape of American literature. Other critics compared Trout Fishing in America to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and welcomed Brautigan to the tradition of Ernest Hemingway, Wallace Stevens, and Mark Twain. Brautigan wrote Trout Fishing in America in 1961 during a summer camping trip in Idaho’s Stanley Basin with his wife Virginia and daughter Ianthe. Jack Spicer worked with Brautigan to edit the Trout Fishing in America manuscript line-by-line and arranged for Brautigan to give public readings of the novel at a San Francisco church. Several excerpts were published in Evergreen Review and The New Writing in the USA, edited by Donald Allen and robert creeley. All these opportunities provided important early exposure for Brautigan and his writing. After rejection by several other publishers, Donald M. Allen, the West Coast representative of New York–based Grove Press, published Trout Fishing in America in 1967 under the imprint of his own San Francisco nonprofit press, Four Seasons Foundation. The novel was an immediate best-seller, and Brautigan was rocketed from cult status to international fame as a new writer with a fresh, visionary voice. In subsequent novels Brautigan vowed not to write sequels to Trout Fishing in America and, instead, experimented with different literary genres. General dismissal by literary critics reversed Brautigan’s initial literary success, and his popularity waned throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. However, Trout Fishing in America, continually translated into other languages, remains popular for its unique prose style.
 Bibliography
■ Barber, John. The Brautigan Bibliography plus+ Available online. URL: http://www.brautigan.net/brautigan/. Accessed January 3, 2005.
■ Cooley, John. “The Garden in the Machine: Three Postmodern Pastorals.” Michigan Academician 13, no. 4 (Spring 1981): 405–420.
■ Smith, Newton. Encyclopedia of American Literature, edited by Steven R. Serafin, 122–123. New York: Continuum, 1999.
   John F. Barber

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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