Richard Brautigan's last novel, published in the U.S. for the first time
Richard Brautigan was an original--brilliant and wickedly funny, his books resonated with the sixties, making him an overnight counterculture hero. Taken in its entirety, his body of work reveals an artistry that outreaches the literary fads that so quickly swept him up.
Dark, funny, and exquisitely haunting, his final book-length fiction explores the fragile, mysterious shadowland surrounding death. Told with classic Brautigan wit, poetic style, and mordant irony, An Unfortunate Woman assumes the form of a peripatetic journal chronicling the protagonist's travels and oblique ruminations on the suicide of one woman, and a close friend's death from cancer.
After Richard Brautigan committed suicide, his only child, Ianthe Brautigan, found among his possessions the manuscript of An Unfortunate Woman. It had been completed over a year earlier, but was still unpublished at the time of his death. Finding it was too painful to face her father's presence page after page, she put the manuscript aside.
Years later, having completed a memoir about her father's life and death, Ianthe Brautigan reread An Unfortunate Woman, and finally, clear-eyed, she saw that it was her father's work at its best and had to be published.
In this posthumously released novel, Richard Brautigan's voice--quipping, punning, strewn with non sequiturs--comes like a rattling of chains. Brautigan took his own life in 1984; An Unfortunate Woman
was written in the years immediately preceding, and the writer's imminent death haunts the book. It bears the subtitle A Journey
, and Brautigan means this quite literally. We follow the first-person narrator in his peregrinations from Montana to San Francisco to New York to Alaska to Honolulu and back to San Francisco, with a detour across the bay to Berkeley--and that's leaving out Canada altogether. Pulling him like a wispy thread throughout is the hanging death of a San Francisco housemate who had cancer. We never learn her story, just that his book's "main theme is an unfortunate woman." She's a constant glancing reference.
Brautigan uses a journal format, with digressions galore, to explore the contingency of his own existence. He tells of loves past, homes past, the kitchens of friends and the beds of strangers. But like the old free-lovin' hippie he is, he never commits to any single story. Of one fellow he meets in Ketchikan: "He is one of those people who in a normal book, unfortunately not this one, would be developed into a memorable character." The author is forever warning you of a digression ahead or a story he'll get back to later. His references to the book in progress read, in this rueful context, not so much as self-indulgent cuteness, but as a kind of sad knowledge of the unkempt ways of his own mind. An Unfortunate Woman will not bring Brautigan many new fans, but devoted readers will find the dark, self-revealing side of a man who felt middle age like a blow to the head. --Claire Dederer