American Fiction, 1975: Celebration in Wonderland

by Shaun O'Connell?

Some novelists attempted to gain perspective through simplifications of language, dislocations in time and orderings of material so stark that they approached allegory. As we have seen in Native Intelligence and Final Cut, to comtemplate Nixon is to recall Kennedy; to live and write in the mid-seventies is to re-evaluate the sixties. Two fad novelists of the sixties — Charles Webb? (The Graduate) and Richard Brautigan (Trout Fishing in America) — either went home again to the play-it-as-it-lays '60's (lay-it-as-it-plays?) or retreated to a kind of pop-Bunyan form as they contemplated their own Celestial Cities.


Though Brautigan's Willard and His Bowling Trophies may or may not be set in the '60's, it has an ad hoc discontinuousness appropriate to our recollection of that decade. The Logan brothers try to regain their stolen bowling trophies which are in possession of Willard, a papier-mâché bird. Of course. When someone asks what Willard is doing with the trophies, someone else answers "Why not?" Don't ask. Just accept concurrent impulses of dicontinuousness; go with the feeling, baby. But, of course, the feelings don't go anywhere. While everything in Willard has the starkness of allegory, as in Abolitionist nothing converts convincingly into meaning; or, another way to put it, things mean too quickly and easily, as when Brautigan makes Matthew Brady appear to photograph Willard and the trophies "to be part of everything that has ever happened to this land of America." Indeed, as Heller insists, something has happened, but we get little convincing guidance toward discovering what from the novelistic comic-books of Webb or Brautigan.

The Massachusetts Review?
Spring 1976: 1973-1974