Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sombrero Fallout; A Japanese Novel

I was not familiar with Richard Brautigan before I read this book. I picked it up largely due to the title. A Japanese novel about a sombrero? How unusual.

The book lived up to its title. It is an unusual book in many ways. The chapters are extremely short. I think the longest was four pages. In my version of the book (which is not the version linked), the chapters start in the middle of the page. Then there's the story.

The book is about an American humorist whose name is not given but one suspects could be Brautigan himself. He has fallen in love with a Japanese woman who after a two year relationship has decided to dump him. The story takes place one night soon after this breakup where he is at home fretting and obsessing about her. She, on the other hand, is sleeping peacefully in her apartment with her cat. The humorist wants to call her but imagines that she is with another man and cannot bear the thought of her answering the phone and confirming this is true. In a fit of despair, the humorist sits down and tries to write. He begins a story where the mayor of a town is walking with his cousin and an unemployed man. Out of nowhere a sombrero falls out of the sky and lands in front of this trio. This is as far as the humorist gets before he crumples up the page and throws it out.

Once the page is thrown in the trash, however, the story continues. The sombrero is very unusual in that it is extremely cold. This is discovered when the mayor's cousin goes to pick it up to hand to the mayor. The cousin and the unemployed man get into an argument over who will hand it to the mayor, both believing that such an act is essential to their future prosperity. The argument upsets the mayor which upsets the two men which upsets the townfolk which then turns into a riot that results in many people being killed and the President of the United States having to come in to restore piece. Horror of horrors, the town librarian has both ears shot off before she is killed. Poor librarian.

The chapters jump from the humorist fretting to the drama unfolding in the wastebasket to the Japanese woman's dreams. The shifting plus the short chapters keeps everything on edge. While the crisis in the wastebasket comes to an end, no such resolution comes about for the man or woman. There is an absurdity of language and events that reminded me a lot of Douglas Adams.

I enjoyed the book but had the sense that Brautigan intended for it to have a deeper meaning than I observed. The sombrero is definitely mystical and/or extraterrestrial but which and why? Who knows? Why did the story continue on without the involvement of the author? Who knows? Still was a fun story and I expect that I will track down other Brautigan works in the future.

1 comment:

Mark's Ephemera said...

In the late 1970s / early 1980s I went through a Richard Brautigan phase.

I became very enamored of Trout Fishing in America.

After reading it, I would give it away, making the next reader promise that they, too, would give it away.

I don't remember reading Sombrero Fallout.

In Watermelon Sugar was okay, if I remember correctly. is a great resource for those that are interested.