Jul 15, 2009

Monkey Droppings - The Abortion by Richard Brautigan

What? A book about abortion? Outrageous! I'll never read your blog again!

I'm assuming that some readers who inadvertently come across this site may have that reaction. Now that they've left the building, let's continue.

The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966
by Richard Brautigan
We don't use the Dewey decimal classification or any index to keep track of our books. We record their entrance into the library in the Library Contents Ledger and then we give the book back to its author who is free to place it anywhere he wants in the library, on whatever shelf catches his fancy.

It doesn't make any difference where a book is placed because nobody every checks them out and nobody ever comes here to read them. This is not that kind of library. This is another kind of library.
First, let's get this out of the way: horrible cover art to this novel. Horrible. Reeks of madness and self-pubishing. Does not entice the reader, but repels with the force of literary kryptonite. That's the author, Brautigan, gracing the cover along with a singer named Victoria, if my research is up to par. Bad, bad cover.

That said, I pretty much love this book.

The Abortion - a novel concerning "the romatic possibilities of a public library in California," which summarizes exacly why I picked up the book in the first place - is a weird little exercise, a librarian's fantasy combined with a second-act account of, well, the title. It's a trifle of a novel, a wisp of literature that threatens to blow away completely at any moment, yet lingers like hints of cigar smoke in an old room.

The public library in question, an unassuming few rooms in an unassuming building in San Francisco, is a gem of an idea that could never exist (and yet, thanks to the novel, apparently now does, although the exact placement of the library is hard to pin down). The library exists solely for the purpose of accepting any person's novel or book. A person can simply walk in off the street, drop off their magnum opus, and be on their way. The narrator (unnamed) is the librarian, a 31-year-man who has not left the building in three years. He accepts all offerings, and jots down personal entries on the subject and author in the ledger such as:
THE EGG LAYED TWICE by Beatrice Quinn Porter. The author said this collection of poetry summed up the wisdom she had found while living twenty-six years on a chicken ranch in San Jose.

"It may not be poetry," she said. "I never went to college, but it's sure as hell about chickens."
One day, the alluring Vida enters the library to drop off her book, shattering the librarian's world. Vida, born with a body "very sensual, inciting one to think of lust, while her face was Botticellian and set your mind to voyaging upon the ethereal," has written a treatise on the perils of being born as a physically perfect speciman, as she is a rather damaged human being as a result of the constant unwanted attention from both genders. Vida quickly envelopes the librarian's world, which eventually results in physical acts that, then, result in the topic contained within the title.

I cannot fully understand, or put into words, the effect The Abortion had on me, and I have the feeling that overanalyzing the work will only dilute its already-fragile nature. There is very little in the way of plot, and the work as a whole has the effervensence of nostalgia. It's part fantasy, part romance, and part jarring clash with reality. There is no way the narrator's job can exist, and I never once believed it could (although I desperately wanted to believe). The Abortion is a clumsy little beast, and hard to defend from any traditional narative standpoint. But it is one that engenders great affection.

Brautigan shows his strength as a novelist as the plotline develops from unusual love story to realistic drama. Vida and the narrator come to the conclusion that neither of them are equipped at the moment to deal with the baby, and they arrange for an illegal abortion in Tijuana. There is no sensationism here, no heart-felt debate, no histrionics. There is no back-alley abortionist, no crude sensationalism. What happens is the result of two rational human beings making a choice, and then following through to the consequences. The procedure is clean, unemotional, yet weighted with unsaid significance. And then their lives continue. They go back to the library, something happens (no spoilers here), and their lives continue.

I was unaware of Brautigan and his output until coming across this novel on the shelves of my local public library. He was a counter-culture author 10 the 1960s, acclaimed but never a huge seller, and he suffered from a variety of mental issues, arguably leading to his suicide in 1984. But I will now be seeking out his other works. The Abortion isn't a perfect creation; it's lumpy and shaky, constantly threatening to collapse. But its humour and passion shine through the cracks.



James Redekop said...

Is it just me, or does the author on the cover look like Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever?

Corey said...

THANK you, that was bugging me, and I could not put my finger on it.

Remi said...

I liked this book a lot, as well. I've been meaning to read Trout Fishing in America for years but still haven't got around to it. It seems to be a theme with Brautigan books that they all have photographs on the cover of the author.

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