Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2005 Issue

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

Brautigan1

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

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions