If you’ve never read Richard Brautigan’s novel Trout Fishing in America you really ought to check it out. Published in 1967, it isn’t exactly a book about trout fishing, though there is a bit of that in there. Instead, it’s an inventive sort of indictment of mainstream American culture from one of the funniest and saddest voices of the 1960s countercultural movement.
I first read Trout Fishing in America when I was in graduate school. I read it before I learned that Brautigan had killed himself in 1984. The exact date of his death is unknown because his body wasn’t found for about a month. It was severely decomposed. There’s a legend that his suicide note read “Messy, isn’t it?” Members of his family refute that claim.
I eventually learned of Brautigan’s suicide after becoming interested in the landscape paintings that Jim Harrison always uses for the covers of his books. Those paintings are the works of an artist (and hunter and angler) named Russell Chatham. Chatham and Brautigan were friends. Four years after Brautigan’s death, Chatham eulogized him in an essay called Dust to Dust. In the essay, he speculates about the circumstances behind Brautigan’s suicide, and he talks about his and Brautigan’s differing relationships with hunting. I got to thinking about this essay a few days ago and I went to look for it online. I found it and wanted to share with you. It’s beautiful and stunning. If you read this and then want to go a little deeper into Chatham, check him out in the documentary Rivers of a Lost Coast, which tells the history of steelhead and fishermen along California’s northern coast.