Saturday, 18 October 2014
A Confederate General from Big Sur
I read a piece by Jarvis Cocker citing Brautigan as his favourite author, so I laid hands on this anthology to see if Cocker's opinion was worth spit - and it was. I won't go so far as to say Brautigan has now become my favourite author, but he's certainly in there with another hundred or so.
Brautigan was a hippie success in the Sixties and Seventies, who fell from favour in the Eighties and shot himself in 1985. A Confederate General from Big Sur was one of his first fictions, written in the late Fifties but not published until 1964 after the "success" of Trout Fishing in America.
You get the idea of what Brautigan is about when you realise a) there were no confederate generals from Big Sur, and b) there are no confederate generals in the novel. There is, however, a lot of Big Sur, though it should be borne in mind that this is long before the Beach Boys and the Californian promontory was strictly for the dedicated Bohemian. And such a one is Lee Mellon, our hero and very much the hero of Brautigan's narrator persona Jesse. Every life should have a Lee Mellon in it. I know and am grateful that mine did. Lee Mellon (always referred to by the full name) is a force of nature, toothless, workshy, but a devil with the ladies, and he invites the insular Jesse down from San Francisco for a season in the wild.
The echo of Kerouac and Neal Cassady is unavoidable - especially since Kerouac also wrote a novel called Big Sur. On the Road was published in 1957, the year in which Confederate General is set. But Brautigan's work is much gentler and humorous. Lee Mellon and Jesse use weed not speed. I found their story much more to my taste.