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#51 ~ In Watermelon Sugar

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In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

I have had my readers, the director of my department, and finally my husband pick the next book I read. His choice for me was In Watermelon Sugar. Although this is the third unnamed narrator in last four books that I’ve read, this book is otherwise nothing like anything else I’ve read.

It’s a poetic fantasy that tells the tale of the unnamed narrator and his love affairs with Margaret and Pauline. Margaret was his first love, but she fell from his favor when it appeared that she favor moved from living in the iDEATH community to collecting items found in the Forgotten Works. When the narrator found that he could not understand Margaret any longer, he turned his affections to Pauline, a woman whose life was simple and dedicated to iDEATH.

Throughout this novel, Brautigan creates a world where many of the structures and other materials are made of watermelon sugar and you can tell the day of the week because of the color of the sky. On just a aesthetic level, it is a beautiful place. Even the image of coming from the coffins laid to rest at the bottom of the river feels right and beautiful. It even makes communal life seem peaceful, so long as their aren’t others from the outside causing trouble.

This book will definitely take some time for me to fully absorb. Before I can truly understand it that I’ll need to read it again. While one view is that In Watermelon Sugar points to the importance of maintaining harmony in a community, I think more is happening than that. The narrator, while in a relationship with Margaret, became uncomfortable when her interests took her away from the community. His reluctance and fear of change are what drove him to Pauline. To me, that says that it is easier to remain in community once you’re there. It doesn’t highlight the merits of doing so. While the narrator is quite a likable fellow, how much easier was it for him to cloak his personal weakness and guilt by pointing out Margaret’s odd behavior and supposed abandonment of iDEATH than to be honest about his own behavior? To me, Margaret is an unsung character. Perhaps even Neko Case agrees with me (or I her):

“Margaret vs. Pauline”

Everything’s so easy for Pauline
Everything’s so easy for Pauline
Ancient strings set feet a light to speed to her such mild grace
No monument of tacky gold
They smoothed her hair with cinnamon waves
And they placed an ingot in her breast to burn cool and collected
Fate holds her firm in its cradle and then rolls her for a tender pause to savor
Everything’s so easy for Pauline

Girl with the parking lot eyes
Margaret is the fragments of a name
Her bravery is mistaken for the thrashing in the lake
Of the make-believe monster whose picture was faked
Margaret is the fragments of a name
Her love pours like a fountain
Her love steams like rage
Her jaw aches from wanting and she’s sick from chlorine
But she’ll never be as clean
As the cool side of satin, Pauline

Two girls ride the blue line
Two girls walk down the same street
One left her sweater sittin’ on the train
The other lost three fingers at the cannery
Everything’s so easy for Pauline

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To buy this book, click here.

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