In Watermelon Sugar
"iDEATH is a place where the sun shines a different colour every day and where people travel to the length of their dreams. Rejecting the violence and hate of the old gang at the Forgotten Works, they lead gentle lives in watermelon sugar. In this book, Richard Brautigan discovers and expresses the mood of a new generation."
I was slightly nervous about re-reading this book for a review, since my teens I’ve used it as my go to answer when asked what my favourite book is, there’s also about ten copies of it in circulation as a result of me buying it for people for their birthdays and I named this blog after the central town of the novel, iDEATH.
But, although I’d read it about five times previously, I hadn’t read it for a good few years before sitting down with it again recently. I was worried that my opinion on the novel might have changed. I’m so glad it hasn’t.
The book remains as subtle and beautiful to me as it did when I first picked it up almost ten years ago.
Describing the novel is kind of hard to do as there’s no way you can list the plot points without them sounding utterly bizarre. I could tell you that the main character doesn’t have a name, that sometimes the sun turns black and there’s no sound, that the people in the novel build everything out of watermelon, there’s a statue of a potato, one of grass and one of mirrors and there are talking tigers who have a working knowledge of arithmetic.
To list these points out of context makes the novel sound like little more than a jumble of bizarre concepts, weirdness for weirdness sake.
You really have to read the novel to see that these things slot seamlessly into the narrative and create a world which feels wonderfully real despite being so unusual.
The tone of the novel is so delightfully calm, the people of iDEATH find it impossible to be mad, even horrible events are treated with little more than a sigh and a shrug of shoulders. As if the characters are thinking “Something horrible is happening now, but soon it’ll be over”. It’s all just so peaceful that it’s impossible not to find yourself slouching comfortably into the sofa and giving yourself over willingly to the world. You will put the book down wishing more than anything you could walk the fields around iDEATH, soaking your feet in the trout fattened rivers that flow around it.
This for me is Brautigan’s minimalist writing style at it’s finest. Chapters are short, sometimes literally one or two sentences and deliver only the information that is required, where other writers would perhaps bog the reader down with dense exposition about iDEATH and the mysterious Forgotton Works, Brautigan skips over such thigns entirely. The reader is left to decide for themselves what this world is, is it our own? Some post apocalyptic future? A parable of the hippy communes of the 60’s? An alien world? Alternate dimension?
This loose storytelling may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for my money it’s used here to absolute perfection, looking over the novel there is not a single thing I would have added, nor a single moment of padding to be removed, everything is exactly as it should be.
I was so glad to find this novel to be as wonderful as I remembered it to be, reading it is a delight and I’ll be sure to pass on the novel again whenever a gift is called for.
In the San Francisco Chronicle’s review of Brautigan’s most famous work Trout fishing in America, the critic said,
“Perhaps when we are very old, people will write ‘Brautigans,’ just as we now write novels. Let us hope so.”
If this is true, let us hope that In watermelon Sugar is held as the highest example of what a Brautigan can be. It is an astonishing, beautiful piece and it deserves to be remembered forever.