The final book recommendation of the summer is Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar.
“I guess you are kind of curious as to who I am, but I am one of those who do not have a regular name. My name depends on you. Just call me whatever is in your mind.”
Like me, In Watermelon Sugar is short and strange, but (also like me, I hope) strange in an endearing way. The story takes place in another world, where the sun shines a different color each day, the watermelons are the color of the sun at the time of their harvest, and everything around is made from watermelon sugar and trout oil. Tigers can speak, the narrator has no name, and people live in a little commune called iDEATH. A hooligan named inBOIL and his gang threaten iDEATH's tranquility, and an unfathomably large junkyard called The Forgotten Works sits outside of town, drawing misfits and outcasts deeper and deeper into its ominous maze of relics from a former civilization.
Richard Brautigan was a poet as well as a novelist, active primarily in the 1960s and '70s, and was known as the "last of the Beat writers." When In Watermelon Sugar was published in 1968, it found a passionate audience among counter-cultural youth for its depiction of idyllic commune life, while major literary critics dismissed it as lacking in substance and being pointlessly surreal. It is surreal, sometimes to a disorienting degree, and it would be easy to wave it off as a hippie's bad acid trip. In Watermelon Sugar is, however, written with a poet's ear for the power of language, and it explores themes of community, isolation, betrayal, innocence, evil, love, and death thoughtfully and with beauty.
There really is no other book out there like it. It's very short, its chapters are sometimes only a sentence or two long, and you could easily read it in an afternoon. You may find, though, that its imagery stays with you long after.
[Side note: if you're a Neko Case fan, you might recognize this book as the inspiration for her song Margaret vs. Pauline]
Brautigan.net's page on In Watermelon Sugar (includes background info on the novel and a long list of links to full reviews)
TOR.com review : "If one were to flip through the pages of In Watermelon Sugar each 'chapter' appears to be one page, and you might think you’d picked up a collection of poetry, rather than a short novel. But Brautigan has a singular ability to tell a complete and compelling story through a series of small passages, which all on their own are extremely beautiful. If Bradbury had the surrealistic sensibilities of a poet, the towns in Dandelion Wine and In Watermelon Sugar could very well be neighbors." [The perfect bookends to our summer series!]
Buy from Amazon or check your local public library.
Thanks for following us this summer, and enjoy the start of the fall semester!