I’m currently reading William Hjortsberg’s 800+ page biography of Richard Brautigan, Jubilee Hitchhiker. It’s a bit ironic for Hjortsberg to write such a huge book about an author whose novels are noted for their brevity. The biography emerges as a kind of enormous antipode to the compactness of the novels, with their succinct and streamlined prose. Hjortsberg’s book stands as the epical obverse to a canon of fictions uninterested in such a voluble form of narrative — his book exists as the novels’ plump dark twin.
Despite the volume’s volume, Jubilee Hitchhiker constructs a compelling life story, and the reader is amazed that the author — who had researched his subject for 20 years — was able to amass such minute details and precise recollections from the people he interviewed. Best of all is the book’s evocation of the San Francisco literary scene of the 1960s.
I’m still reading the book, but what I’ve perused so far reminds me of what I like about Brautigan’s fiction: its whimsy, its deadpan humor, and the author’s talent for devising odd but amazingly apt turns of phrase.
Wanting to pay a (microscopically) small tribute to Brautigan, I came up with a cover design to one of Brautigan’s later novels, The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (1974), patterned after the photography-centered style of his earlier ones, examples of which flank my concoction. (Where the previous books used photos of Brautigan and one of his female “muses” on the front, The Hawkline Monster’s original cover was an illustration of a gothic house.) My mock-up below mocks my efforts at book design. But there it is.