A Confederate General from Big SurBy: Richard Brautigan
Welcome, potential reader, to A Confederate General From Big Sur, a great book by Richard Brautigan. I’ve read some books by Brautigan, which is the extent of my credentials for being here for to welcome you. The editorial desk has asked me to be here and write a few words, no other instruction.
As I’ve said, ACGFBS is a great book. Like a lot of writing from Brautigan it is shortish for a novel, which is wonderful. But Brautigan is much more than a fling, yet destined to end your relationship in a reasonable amount of time and space and on a delicious, life-affirming note. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a full-sized portion; it’s plenty. The Brautigan filter is strong; every line comes from Richard Brautigan’s stomach or balls or someplace particular to his person. A very famous poet once called Brautigan shallow – jealousy I suppose. I find him deep, deep, deep, deep, deep. Heck, I’d come just for the jokes, which have oodles of depth themselves. Little jokes, big jokes, gross jokes, sexual jokes, abstract jokes, poignant jokes, sideways jokes, absurd jokes, jokes that aren’t even knee slap funny but they stand just fine; they’re necessary. Life is a joke and Richard is the barefoot monk come to let us know that everything is going to be all right; well, that everything is not going to be all right; but bottoms up and take a long, slow drag on that sweet, chocolatey tobacco. I’m not getting to the depth part of it so much, but I am ill-equipped for that, as I’m just the welcomer.
I’ve always liked Brautigan and I don’t know why. I almost feel like I know him, but he’s long dead and we never met. Perhaps you’ve been to Big Sur, and so you know it’s a mighty fine and strange place. Maybe you are planning on taking a trip there; you have heard about Big Sur, and I’m saying if you read this book it will be enough to shepherd you in that direction.
After some dilly dallying in the Bay Area Brautigan gets us there to Big Sur, and leaves us there, because Big Sur is an end-of-the-line kind of place, the end of miles. Denver, Colorado is an end-of-the-line kind of place. I’ve never been, but I’ll bet Ulan Bator is an end-of-the-line kind of place. People get there and there is no place left to go and so for that reason, and I suppose other reasons, too, they pretty much never leave. The west coast of California is full of end-of-the-line places, but Big Sur is The Mother Of The End Of Miles places.
There is definitely some alcohol and smoke-up involved with ACGFBS, presumably on both sides of the typewriter, and in a most adorable and destructive way. How I wish I could have known this man. But he has given plenty of himself in these pages, more than most. Behind every chuckle shyly stands every god-damned pain; Brautigan’s denizens, really it’s all him and his, with all their tiny victories and massive failures and high, high hopes for the big catch (or lack of hope), Richard finds his big catch and here it is; his second novel (but published first) is, like all of his novels, the big one. This is his big score. His words. His quite deep words. Maybe some dickweed poet thought he was shallow, but I’m here to tell you that he is not shallow! It’s so freaking deep I want to get a tattoo, and I’ve never had a tattoo!
He came once from Eugene, Oregon, land where he was partly raised, and got the hell out when he could (so did I after ten years) to San Frantastic and the region much of the time after that, until a self-inflicted thing out in Montana, I think, and we tend to say ‘oh that’s sad’, because of course, it is sad, but also just the way it was going to always be; let’s just raise the glass and be glad for his depth.
And this book reflects his time down at Big Sur, of course. Don’t confuse him with the beats; don’t call him hippie; he’s his own man, and he’s probably a reincarnated civil war soldier (just do a Google image search), too. I think his pain is not just from his youth and not just from this life, but from many lives. A thousand-year soldier. Not like a flag waver, but just surfing along and getting fucked over, life after life, and that’s why the jokes just keep getting better and better is my theory. Remember I have credentials.
It’s all there in the title with ACGFBS, except the ending. And in a fashion that can only be described as Brautiganese he has given us six endings. I think it’s a kind of test. There is an opinion that the artiste’s first instincts are the most correct, and since the Richard Brautigan version of Captain Soldier, the thousand-year-old man(s) is currently elsewhere (right?) I will speak for him and tell you confidently (the artist is always right) that ending number 1 is the bestest of the six; 2 brings us to 3 and 3 is nice; 4 is probably perfect for the movie version of ACGFBS; 5 is truly magical and shamanistic and 6 is a joke with a big sign overhead that says ‘Hi. I’m a joke’, yet also implies yet further possibilities for many, many other endings to the book, until there is nothing but pure light, which, is pretty damn good for a little ol’ joke, you know what I mean? So be bold. Get your scissors, or even better, an exacto knife, and remove endings 2 through 6. If you are reading this digitally, please, show some respect. Go get a hard copy, and then do the edit. This book was surely written kah-lunk, kah-lunk on a well built, human-powered machine, cast metal, hurting the paper, black ink splashing and smearing, smoke absorbing into the pages, wine and whiskey fumes blessing the draft, and beautiful, fleeting love waiting in the wings.