Below is a reply to the attached essay. Please answer the bold question. Answer does not need to be more than a couple of paragraphs.
I’m glad to read that as you made your way through this often puzzling book you “began to take note of Brautigan’s use of figurative language,” because I think this is one of Trout Fishing in America’s main strengths. Here are some of my favorites among the book’s many striking metaphors, similes, and images:
“he had a way of describing trout as if they were a precious and intelligent metal … trout steel. Steel made from trout. The clear snow-filled river acting as foundry and heat” (3)
“a row of old houses, huddled together like seals on a rock” (4)
“a welcome mat on the front porch of hell” (15)
“a Walden Pond for winos” (17)
“small boards that looked like heels of stale bread” (20)
“like the eternal 59th second when it becomes a minute and then looks kind of sheepish” (24)
“his eyes were like the shoelaces of a harpsichord” (26)
In addition, I think some of the book’s extended descriptions are as evocative as anyone could hope for:
“I walked down one morning from Steelhead, following the Klamath River that was high and murky and had the intelligence of a dinosaur. Tom Martin Creek was a small creek with cold, clear water and poured out of a canyon and through a culvert under the highway and then into the Klamath…. But that creek turned out to be a real son-of-a-bitch. I had to fight it all the God-damn way: brush, poison oak and hardly any good places to fish, and sometimes the canyon was so narrow the creek poured out like water from a faucet. Sometimes it was so bad that it just left me standing there, not knowing which way to jump” (19).
This is good writing! So we might say that TFA is strong on imagery and language use, but weak on plot and character. I would not, however, say it is weak on theme, since I do see at least one pretty consistent theme emerging. What theme? Maybe we could call it the “disappearance of nature,” or the difficulty, in our postmodern world, of actually encountering genuine nature. Consider the climax of “Knock on Wood (Part Two),” in which the narrator, remembering himself as a young child, mistakes a white wooden staircase for a trout stream:
“I stood there for a long time, looking up and looking down, following the stairs with my eyes, having trouble believing.
Then I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood.
I ended up being my own trout and eating the sandwich myself.
The reply of Trout Fishing in America:
‘There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t change a flight of stairs into a creek.’
The boy walked back to where he came from.” (5)
The boy hopes for an encounter with pristine nature, only to find that what he thought was natural was in fact artificial. This sense of disappointment is evoked time and again in the book (as for example in the camping episodes).
Of course, there is much else to the book than just this idea that our encounters with nature often turn out to be pretty artificial. But this seems to be a consistent theme.
For your followup question, let me ask you whether you think a book like TFA can succeed *solely* on the strength of its imaginative metaphors, etc., or whether it also needs strong characters and/or an interesting plot. Is imaginative use of language enough by itself to make a book worth reading?