In which Netty comes face to face with The Hawkline Monster, and discovers her new favourite author. Yes, again

January 21, 2014

ImageSometime in 2009 I went to a launch for the now-defunct, Melbourne-based literary magazine Torpedo at the venerable Readings Bookshop in Carlton. Volume four was a tribute issue to American cult author Richard Brautigan, of whom I had never heard, and Andy was one of the local writers whose short story was included therein – along with some of Brautigan’s original poems and excerpts from some of his novels. I went along because I like literary mags and short stories, to support Andy, and because there was free wine. At least, I think there was free wine. It was a long time ago now.

I came out with a copy of Torpedo 4 – which I admit, shamefacedly, that I never ended up reading, apart from Andy’s contribution, of course!  – and I thought that seeing it was a celebration of Brautigan, I’d better buy one of his books, too. That book was his 1974 work The Hawkline Monster (A Gothic Monster), which was added to “the pile” (you know “the pile”. Every avid reader has got one – only its height and the number of books on it varies), until eventually it made its way into a bookcase, and remained there until I went looking for something small-ish that I could quickly knock over because it was already January 2014, goddamnit, and this was supposed to be a book that I was reading in December 2013, but then holidays and Christmas and the fact that I was dragging my feet finishing Henry Miller’s diabolically insufferable Tropic of Cancer got in the way.

And thank god that it did, really, because who knows how long this little gem (note: spoilers!) might have remained hidden away on the shelves, otherwise undiscovered, unread, unloved.

 After I finished The Hawkline Monster, I went back to Readings and promptly bought every Brautigan I could find on its shelves (that isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds – there were only three books there; Brautigan published 11, along with 11 volumes of poetry and a short story collection, during his lifetime). So I forked out the cash for two, and left the third – a compendium that included The Hawkline Monster – behind, for obvious reasons.

Regular readers of this blog have heard (read!) me (and indeed Andy) say several times over the journey that OH MY GOD! I LOVE THIS AUTHOR AND I AM GOING TO READ EVERYTHING HE/SHE HAS EVER WRITTEN!

You can safely assume I am adding Brautigan to this list, stat.

Because, wow. Just wow.

Brautigan, who died in 1984 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound (he reportedly suffered from depression and schizophrenia, for which he was treated with shock therapy, and struggled with alcoholism for much of his adult life), is loosely considered one of the last of the beat writers – although his books were published between the mid-1960s and early 1980s, past the beats’ prime. Some reviewers have opined that he is a “much better” writer than, say, Burroughs or Kerouac (both of whom I adore and have widely read) – although I can’t say he seems to have that much in common with them, especially the latter, and he’s not really one of their contemporaries anyway.  He’s probably got more in common with authors such as Vonnegut, or Bukowski.

If you like any of those guys, well, you’re gonna LOVE Brautigan. And he certainly deserves as wide an audience. The Hawkline Monster is one of those sublime reading experiences, a book in which you can fully immerse yourself and happily devour (especially as it is a mere 135 pages, natch. After all, why say something in 500 pages that you can say in less than 150?) I love the economy and brevity of Brautigan’s words, the wry humour, the sheer madcap inventiveness behind these characters and the plot, its deceptive simplicity. It is truly the whole package, and then some.

In short, ladies and gentleman, I think I have a new favourite author. And yes, I am aware I have already bestowed that honour twice previously in the 2013 Reading Challenge. But Brautigan may prove to be first among equals, as they say.

The Hawkline Monster is set in the northern summer of 1902. After having done – or not done, in one case – a couple of jobs in Hawaii and San Francisco, two professional hitmen, Greer and Cameron, are spending some downtime in Portland’s whorehouses between jobs. They are discovered by an Indian girl, Magic Child, who offers them $5000 to fulfil an unspecified task in Eastern Oregon. After a memorable journey to the Dead Hills via train and horseback, the trio ends up at Hawkline Manor – home of Professor Hawkline and his two daughters, and their butler, the elderly giant Mr Morgan.

It transpires that Greer and Cameron have been hired by the Hawkline sisters to kill a monster who lives in the ice caves under the basement laboratory. The monster is considered responsible for the recent disappearance of Professor Hawkline, who relocated his family from Massachusetts to eastern Oregon to continue his life’s work on his experiment The Chemicals – which he believed would answer the ultimate problem facing mankind. And in the meantime, the monster’s continual banging around the ice caves below the house is stopping the sisters from continuing their father’s work and achieving his life’s dream.

C’mon, admit it – you really, really want to go out and read this book right now, don’t you?

So there’s only one thing to do …

ImageAnd while you’re there – be it a dead-wood bookshop, or one of the newfangled online sites the youngsters, and some switched-on oldies, seem to prefer – see if you can’t pick up a copy of Torpedo 4. You can still find it if you nose around a bit. That’s the next cab off my reading rank. Except for Andy’s story in it, which I’ve already read. Of course. Obviously. That goes without saying!

As a man in a hat once said (and which I’ve previously quoted him as saying!), do yourself a favour. 

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