In the summer of 1984, I drove my brother’s 1964 Galaxy 500 (Deluxe Sport Coupe) 1713 miles from Dillon, Montana to Saginaw, Michigan with only one companion – a beat up paperback edition of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America. The radio was original with the car. In eastern Montana and western North Dakota I could seldom pick up stations. I entertained myself by pulling over every once in awhile and reading a chapter or section of Trout Fishing in America. It was the perfect kind of book to do that with.
26 years later, I have another battered edition of Brautigan’s classic – the same faded salmon border, the black and white photo of Brautigan and a friend in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue. Reading it is like hearing an old song you once listened to on AM radio… I am carried back to that summer and the trip east from the mountains and streams of Montana to the failing heart of the American Rust Belt.
To call Trout Fishing in America quirky is to considerably understate the point. It is part short story collection, part prose poem, and part 1960s time capsule. The very name “Trout Fishing in America” morphs from character name, to hotel name, to book title, to the very act of fishing itself.
I tried several Brautigan books in the years immediately following my Trout Fishing in America summer. But none ever measured up. That is understandable… because nothing could ever measure up. The other Brautigan books always seemed like pale attempts to recapture youthful magic.
Rereading Trout Fishing in America in 2010 at the age of 50, some things hold up well, other parts fall altogether flat. Some parts that seemed to me once magical creativity now have the characteristic of gimmicky oddness. It remains, however, a book everyone should have on their resume. At least everyone who has ever been young, trout fished, and lived in the West.