Fishing for Brautigan stories

by Heidi Benson?

"Who would want to be affiliated with that fish?" asked Wayne Thiebaud.

"It's such a strange composition."

The artist's color lithograph, depicting a malingering fish splayed on the bottom of the sea, appears in half of a deluxe, limited edition of Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America that has just been published by Arion Press, with a preface by poet Ron Loewinsohn? and portrait by photographer Edmund Shea?.

All 426 copies ($650 with the Thiebaud litho, $450 without) were spoken for by last week, when Andrew Hoyem?, Arion Press' founder and publisher, regaled the cozy literary crowd — including artist Bruce Conner?, Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books, V. Vale of Re/Search Books, Cissy Swig and Norma Schlesinger — that had gathered to celebrate the book with archetypal "Richard" stories.

There was the note he received from the notoriously hard-drinking Brautigan after a night of revelry that read: "Thank you for the party. I'm sure I had a wonderful time."

Recalling the author's habit of disrobing in social settings, Hoyem said, "Richard would take his clothes off at the drop of a hat, and I was always astonished how successful he would be with the girls after he'd taken his clothes off."

Among those convulsed with delight was Brautigan's former wife Virginia Aste and their daughter, Ianthe. (Her name means "violets" in Greek.)

"I never even saw him in his underwear," she said. Author of You Can't Catch Death: A Daughter's Memoir (Brautigan ended his own life in 1984), Ianthe Brautigan now teaches literature and is at work on a novel that she is hesitant to discuss. "I'm afraid I'll jinx it."

Over the years, her father has earned many nicknames — the Mark Twain? of the '60s, a neo-Thoreau, a Zen trickster — but his is an original American voice, ebullient and sad and comic.

In the prospectus for the new edition, Hoyem writes: "This is a humorous book; it is also very poignant, and it is surreal. It invites you to take along a yardstick when you go to the junkyard, to measure off sections of a used trout stream stacked for sale."

The original typist of Trout Fishing in America was Aste, now a social worker in Hawaii. "Halfway through, we got an electric typewriter," she said.

"Jewels" is what she calls Brautigan's early writing. "It's hard to make a transition between poetry and prose. Finally, 'Trout Fishing' emerged — to me, they are still jewel-like, they're chiseled, they're spare. They are what they are, and that's the end.".

San Francisco Chronicle?
September 7, 2003

Online Source(external link)