Walking past the Presidio branch library on a recent weekend stroll, I dipped in and spotted a display case with letters written from people to the library, asking if it really existed. These were readers of Brautigan’s The Abortion, where the narrator works as a librarian at the 3150 Sacramento Street location. A copy of this book was on the shelves upstairs, soon to be in my possession.
The book was bundled with two others, which went from Bad to Better to Best. I was disappointed in Revenge of the Lawn, a collection of his stories from the 1960s that seemed to have as much talent as you’d expect from a team of monkeys pounding away at typewriters, albeit with occasional glimpses of greatness, like The Gathering of a Californian:
Like most Californians, I come from someplace else and was gathered to the purpose of California like a metal-eating flower gathers the sunshine, the rain, and then to the freeway beckons its petals and lets the cars drive in, millions of cars into but a single flower, the scent choked with congestion and room for millions more.
California needs us, so it gathers us from other places. I’ll take you, you, you, and I from the Pacific Northwest: a haunted land where nature dances the minuet with people and danced with me in those old bygone days.
I brought everything I knew from there to California: years and years of a different life to which I can never return nor want to and seems at times almost to have occurred to another body somehow vaguely in my shape and recognition.
It’s strange that California likes to get her people from every place else and leave what we knew behind and here to California we are gathered as if energy itself, the shadow of that metal-eating flower, had summoned us away from other lives and now to do the California until the very end like the Taj Mahal in the shape of a parking meter.
He has a great description of my credit union, which used to be the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, on the site of one of California’s most famous cemeteries before they shipped the dead off to Colma, but still some tall cypress trees linger. “Perhaps these questions are too poetic. Maybe it would be best just to say: There are four trees standing beside an insurance company out in California.”
I was fully prepared to not like The Abortion, and yet it was simply good. The librarian accepts random books 24 hours a day, has been locked inside the library for three years until he gets his girlfriend pregnant and they head to Tijuana for an abortion. There is, of course, that terrible streak of misogyny that seems to taint all the Beats, but if you hold your nose or just sigh and skim through those parts, it’s almost worth it.
But best of all was So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away, an intriguing look back to his Oregon childhood with dramatic flashes (the decision to buy bullets for his gun instead of a hamburger, then the accidental shooting of his friend) and theatrical descriptions of the pond he’d fish in and watch a fat couple drive up to and unload their living room furniture night after night so they’d be comfortable while doing their own fishing from the overstuffed sofa.
I guess I’m on a Brautigan quest now, an irresistible blend of decent writing mixed with San Francisco history.
Hmm. I’m having second thoughts after reading the Rolling Stone writeup after he suicided, with choice quotes like:
- “A lot of Richard’s male friends blamed women for his death, but they admitted that he was impossible to live with.”
- “Although he hated feminists, Richard understood women’s frailties and fears.”
- “he became frighteningly violent” to one of his wives.
- “Richard bought a house in Bolinas, upsetting many people in the community when he dispossessed poets David and Tina Meltzer and their children.” Michael McClure elsewhere noted “It was Richard buying the house that David and Tina [Meltzer] lived in right out from under them and their two children that was the straw that broke my camel’s back. I thought he should have bought it and let them live in it for nothing. Or even have given it to them.”
Does the world need to continue to read the works of jerks?