Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2005 Issue

You Can't Catch Death by Ianthe Brautigan [<i>but you can understand it better</i>]

A daughter's quest for understanding


A review by Bruce McKinney

Ms. Brautigan, in her memoir You Can't Catch Death, tells the story of her larger-than-life father Richard Brautigan, the author and iconoclast, and her relationship with him. He, a Hamlet on stage, who lives a compartmentalized life. He is a writer and public personality, roles that are separate from his life as her father which is portrayed in the daughter's account as short stories inserted as random chapters in the novel which is Mr. Brautigan's slide into emotional isolation. She provides a perspective that illuminates what has mostly been an unexplained darkness. On the father's side there are fewer connections. There is a sense of a daughter fighting for a space the father seems determined to keep empty. No doubt he achieved what he thought he wanted and as certainly it was not what he needed. It was Mr. Brautigan's fate to know this. For him the emotional pull was into that complicated place where his writing perspective became clear and his touch with reality was lost. He went there alone, found his voice and a generation of readers.

The emptiness that surrounded Mr. Brautigan in life seems to be deeply implicated in his ability to write. It is as if emotional separation fueled his perceptions, empowering his career even as it destroyed him. In the end this separation cost everything and this is why Mr. Brautigan has been, even to his daughter, difficult to understand. It is also paradoxically precisely the attraction he held for readers in the 1960's and 1970s - he flipped reality on its ear encouraging a generation to believe there was more to perception than what was visible on Father Knows Best. His first work appeared in 1959 in the fading days of the Eisenhower Administration and his most famous book, Trout Fishing in America, in 1967 during the summer of love.

I read Ianthe Brautigan's book about her father looking for clarification and found that and increased clarity in Richard Brautigan's writing which is embedded in the baby boomer understanding of the world and their generation's place in it. In understanding Richard Brautigan we understand ourselves better, perhaps a generation's necessary step to make peace with itself and understand its place in history.

So perhaps it was natural then to reread Mr. Brautigan's classic, Trout Fishing in America, to see if it read differently now that a fresh perspective is available. I first read it thirty-five years ago. This re-reading turned out to be very different and I think it fair to say these two books complete each other. The 1960's were a strong reaction to the 1950's and Trout Fishing was Mr. Brautigan's successful attempt to slip the bounds of conventional perception, to convey possibilities that only a few years earlier were beyond the emotional range of much of America. Ms. Brautigan's account adds feeling and perspective and makes this peculiarly autobiographical story more understandable. Think of it as a guide book. In reading both books I suggest reading her book first.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.

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