Print Reviews
An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey
by Richard Brautigan
St. Martin's Press (2000)
An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey
9 / 10
Revered during the countercultural youth movement of the 1960s for his childlike, metaphor-laden prose style, poet and novelist Richard Brautigan fell into undeserved obscurity after his 1984 suicide, dismissed as a minor footnote in the shadow of countercultural icons like Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Hunter S. Thompson. Or, as his friend Tom McGuane astutely put it, "When the 1960s ended, he was the baby thrown out with the bath water. He was a gentle, troubled, deeply odd guy."

An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey, completed in 1982 but published posthumously in 2000, represents this wholly unique author’s last literary offering. Less linear than his other works of fiction—which is really saying something, considering that 1976’s Sombrero Fallout juxtaposes the adventures of a wayward sombrero with a lonely man’s melancholic musings about his Japanese ex-lover, and portions of 1975’s Willard and His Bowling Trophies are written from the point-of-view of a strange wooden bird(the titular Willard)—An Unfortunate Woman reads more like a journal than a novel, but eludes classification as either.

Basically, this book finds Brautigan attempting to use all 160-some pages of a Japanese journal to explore themes of life and death through cyclical, random thoughts about one female friend’s suicide, and another’s death from cancer. Less humorous than his other works, An Unfortunate Woman feels eerie in the wake of Brautigan’s suicide, as though the author was putting all of his literary affairs in order before making his shotgun escape. As such, it’s not a good introductory sally for those unfamiliar with Brautigan—his typically freewheeling style is much more subdued here, lending a strange heaviness to this slim volume of prose.

Seeing as how Brautigan’s one of my favorite authors, I enjoyed this final chance to spend some time with him, but newbies would be better off starting with his major 1961 hit, Trout Fishing in America(often mistakenly filed in the “Sports” section of bookstores during the 1960s), or the sublime The Abortion: An Historical Romance, 1966. Then come back around to this one. All will grow on you like moss.
Posted by: J. Bowers

Print Reviews (March 16th, 2006)