Thursday, March 20, 2008

Repetition, The Abortion, Repetition (Annotation G3-11/Goddard)

There were endless possibilities in Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Since the book predates Wade vs Row, and the legalization of abortion, Brautigan’s opportunity to make a clear statement on the subject was never realized. Instead the story was centered around a fantastical library where books are never checked out, only submitted, and a haunting experience in a Tijuana abortion clinic. Of the three main characters, the librarian narrator, the girlfriend Vida and Foster the cave keeper, the descriptions are flat. Page after page the repetitious character descriptions are tiresome to the point of irksome.
The first introduction is the librarian. His descriptions of the library, as fantastic as it is, become predictable. He accepts books people write, and goes through the trouble of introducing all the books he receives on a given day. As each newcomer enters the library, the narrator asks each writer the same questions, which tells the reader something about the narrator, he knows only these few things, and draws his experience with various writers thusly. His flat conversations are partly due to the fact he is never allowed to leave the library, and he has been locked up in it for three years as the story begins.
Enter Vida into the library. Delivering her book, a book about being born in the wrong body: “she was developed to the most extreme of Western man’s desire in this century to look: the large breast, the tiny waist, the large hips, the long Playboy furniture legs,” (Brautigan 43). Whereas Vida disdains her physical beauty, it’s only due to the attention she attracts. The narrator explains her beauty over and over and over and over and over again, her disdain becomes the disdain of bored readers too. Alluding to Playboy, presumably the magazine, which was likely very popular in the time of publication, Brautigan mentions it over and over again: his descriptions of Vida, a phone booth, San Francisco International Airport, the 727 to San Diego, and the sterile insides of the Woolworth’s of Tijuana. Playboy, Playboy, Playboy.
Enter Foster. Once Vida and the librarian make the discovery of the pregnancy, they quickly opt for abortion. The true missed opportunity is the decision itself, especially in a political climate like the 1960s. The decision is quick, and the action swift. The librarian leaves the library to make a phone call to Foster at the phone booth of the corner. Foster, a coworker lives in some caves in Northern California where the books of the library go when the library fills up. Meeting Foster, it’s know instantly he wears a t-shirt no matter what the weather, he’s always sweating no matter what the weather, and he has Buffalo hair messy on his shoulders. This very same description occurs at every mention of Foster, and every time Foster shows up. If the lost opportunities of social—political statements on abortion are not sad enough, a missed opportunity of a potentially deep character live Foster is depressing. Foster has the potential to be the sage, he knows Dr. Garcia, and he knows his way around every step of the couple’s journey. If he has any wisdom to impart, it is lost somewhere between his eternal t-shirt and the sweat pouring from his body.
Any criticisms on Brautigan’s style, as serious complaints cannot leave The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 completely unread. He is able to weave together an interesting setting, and he does capture a dreamlike quality, especially inside the library. As fantastical as the settings are, they do not help to round out the repetitive character descriptions.

Brautigan, Richard. The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Touchstone Books: New York, 1970.

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