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In Watermelon Sugar

by William Michaelian

Reality is a poor excuse not to enjoy the work of Richard Brautigan. It is also the best excuse. Either way, I recommend you set reality aside; let it rest awhile; if you find you need it later, chances are it will still be there. If it isn't, well, as they say, good riddance.

Brautigan's gentle vision, melancholy humor, and ear for language are all beautifully evident in his short impressionistic novel, In Watermelon Sugar. The story begins simply and in earnest:

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.
Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out.

And work out it does. Effortlessly, Brautigan builds a bridge composed of dry timber and sad, sweet images, and places them beneath a colored sky and sun in a comfortable living room as big as one's imagination will allow. One end of the bridge is at the reader's feet. The other is in a small community of peaceful souls once shared by mournful tigers, which ate people with regret, sang, apologized in English, and offered to help the narrator with his arithmetic even as he was being orphaned. The narrator, now an adult, holds nothing against the tigers - and, indeed, nothing against anyone. Life is simply the thing it is. Not everything can be explained, nor does it need to be:

... Fred had something strange-looking sticking out of the pocket of his overalls. I was curious about it. It looked like something I had never seen before.
"What's that in your pocket, Fred?"
"I found it today coming through the woods and up from the Watermelon Works. I don't know what it is myself. I've never seen anything like it before. What do you think it is?"
He took it out of his pocket and handed it to me. I didn't know how to hold it. I tried to hold it like you would a flower and a rock at the same time.
"How do you hold it?" I said.
"I don't know. I don't know anything about it." ...

To me, that simple confession, "I didn't know how to hold it," perfectly describes Brautigan's feelings toward life itself. How do you hold something that is infinite, delicate, and always changing? The answer: You don't. You write a book instead, give it to the world, and hope it takes root in watermelon sugar.

Richard Brautigan was born January 30, 1935, in the Pacific Northwest. He lived for many years in San Francisco, and was called by many "the last of the Beats." He committed suicide in Bolinas, California, at the age of forty-nine.

I'm Telling You All I Know: The Website of Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet William Michaelian
October 17, 2007

Online source(external link)

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