In Watermelon Sugar
First edition cover, showing Brautigan with his friend Hilda Hoffman.
|Cover artist||Edmund Shea|
|Publisher||Four Seasons Foundation|
|June 14, 1968|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Trout Fishing in America (1967)|
|Followed by||Revenge of the Lawn (1971)|
In Watermelon Sugar is a novel written by Richard Brautigan and published in 1968. It is a tale of a commune organized around a central gathering house which is named "iDEATH". In this environment, many things are made of watermelon sugar (though the inhabitants also use pine wood and stone for building material and fuel is made from trout oil). The landscape of the novel is always changing. Each day has a different colored sun which creates different colored watermelons, and the central building also changes frequently.
Through the narrator's first person account we hear the story of the people and the events of iDEATH. The central tension is created by Margaret, once a lover of the narrator, and inBOIL, a rebellious man who has left iDEATH to live near a forbidden area called the Forgotten Works. It is a huge trash heap where the remnants of a former civilization lie abandoned in great piles. Margaret, a collector of such 'forgotten things', is friendly with inBOIL and his followers, who explore the place and make whiskey.
inBOIL's separation from the group may have been related to the annihilation of 'The Tigers', killed many years previously by the people. It is unknown to the reader whether 'The Tigers' were actual tigers, human beings or somehow anthropomorphic: while the tigers would kill and eat people (including the narrator's parents) they could also talk, sing, play musical instruments and were at least competent with arithmetic. Two tigers were killed on a bridge (known later as 'the abandoned bridge'). The last tiger was killed on a spot later developed into a trout farm.
In the violent climax of the novel, inBOIL returns to the community along with a handful of followers, planning, he says, to show the residents what iDEATH really is. The residents know only that "something" is about to happen—for all they know, inBOIL could be plotting to kill them all. Margaret appears oblivious to the threats, and unconcerned about the safety of her own family and friends. Many suspect that Margaret knew and did not reveal details of inBOIL's real plan, thus "conspiring" with the evil men. She is semi-ostracized from iDEATH, and at the beginning of the novel the narrator reveals he had ended their relationship because of these events.
The concept of iDEATH is subject to various interpretations. It can be seen as a new Eden in a post-apocalyptic world, with the old destroyed world represented by the Forgotten Works, connecting the narrator and his new lover to Adam and Eve. The novel alludes to communal experiments of the 1960s, involving the intersection of nature and technology. For example, the iDEATH building seems to have been constructed around nature, rather than displacing it; the building houses many trees, rocks, a creek, and a trout hatchery. Brautigan himself said he based the book on his life in Bolinas, whose inhabitants were at that time known for their semi-communal and insular ways.
Allusions/references from other works
In Watermelon Sugar is referenced in Ray Mungo's book on his experiences founding and running the Total Loss Farm commune in Vermont. He speaks of iDEATH several times. Stephen Gaskin, who wrote that he felt an "acid weird" and "strange mythology" in the book, may have based some aspects of The Farm commune in Summertown, Tennessee on iDEATH.
The titles and characters are also used as lyrics in a song by new rave band Klaxons in their song 'Forgotten Works', that features on their album Myths of the Near Future. Neko Case references this book as the inspiration for her song 'Margaret versus Pauline' on the album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. The setting of the novel is also referenced in song "The Tigers" by Goodbye Kumiko band. iDeath is also briefly referenced in the "New Traveler's Almanac" section of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2. In Watermelon Sugar is also referenced multiple times in the Dean Koontz novel, One Door Away from Heaven, by an important secondary character who believes, in her near-constant drug-soaked haze, that she would unlock the secrets of the universe if she could only understand this book properly. The main character of the 1998 Wally Lamb novel I Know This Much Is True reads and references In Watermelon Sugar throughout the novel.
- Brautigan, Richard, In Watermelon Sugar. San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1968.
- Gaskin, Stephen. Haight Ashbury Flashbacks. (Originally called Amazing Dope Tales.) Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company, 1980.
- Detailed analysis of the novel at the Brautigan Archives. Quotes from reviews, discussion of possible sources and inspirations.
- Barber, John F. (21 July 2006). "Novels > In Watermelon Sugar". Brautigan Bibliography and Archive. Retrieved 2008-05-05.
- Images of First Edition (Limited)
- Images of First Edition (Trade)