This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Richard Brautigan’s first novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur. Here’s the Wiki…
The story takes place in 1957. A man named Lee Mellon believes he is a descendant of a Confederate general who was originally from Big Sur. This general is not in any books or records and there is so far no proof of his existence although Mellon meets a drifter from the Pacific Northwest who has also heard of this general. Mellon seeks the truth of his own modern-day war against the status quo of the Union states.
While the book launched Brautigan’s career as a novelist, it was not well received. Here is a review published in Playboy…
The latest in a blasted line from a blameless sire is A Confederate General from Big Sur, a novel by Richard Brautigan which is a surrealist synopsis of everything that was worth missing in the now-fading beat? literary scene. There is a “hero” whose heroism consists of scrounging and inviting his friend, the narrator, to loaf, invite his soul, and note the lay of the land. They are thus self-evidently, sensitive, superior beings. There are purportedly odd adventures, lovable eccentric characters, despicable types who work for a living, callgirls with hearts of gold and other parts to match, all seen from the heights of middle adolescence. The story (nonexistent) moves through San Francisco and the Big Sur and is interwoven with references, in mystical italics, to a mythic Confederate general. This, possibly gives the book historical resonance; on the other hand, possibly not. The style, all bits and pieces, never really takes the bits in its teeth. The insights have all the freshness of a Willkie button. (“I have noticed this pattern again and again. A pretty girl living with an ugly.”) The trick of always referring to the hero by his full name does not, unfortunately, succeed in giving him stature and depth. At one point the narrator, who adores the hero, says of his girl, “In an extraordinarily brief period of time she had grown to know, to understand what went on behind the surface of Lee Mellon.” She should have told the author.
While Brautigan’s first novel didn’t set the world on fire, it did set the stage for his next book, the breakthrough novel that put Brautigan on the map, Trout Fishing in America.
Here is the man himself reading and being interviewed on Swiss television. Brautigan talks about poetry, perception, the 20th century, his love affair with Japan, and the 1980′s. Brautigan even predicts the information revolution saying, “I want more and more information, because information is the future.” The interview takes place in 1983, one year before the author’s gunshot suicide.