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"No Picnic"
Julian Barnes
New Statesman 21 May 1976: 685.

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Recent Brautigan comes equipped with helpfully generic subtitles: after '. . . An Historical Romance 1966', after '. . . A Gothic Western', we come to '. . . A Perverse Mystery.' The perversity is supplied by Bob and Constance, half-hearted bondage kinks whose idea of foreplay is a good browse in The Greek Anthology; they are rather sad and cry a lot. The mystery consists in the whereabouts of a terrific set of bowling trophies stolen from some famous bowlers called the Logan Brothers; they are rather tough. Downstairs from Bob and Constance live John and Pat, who actually have the trophies, and keep them arranged round Willard, a papier-mâché bird. John and Pat are very fond of Willard, always wish him goodnight, and even consider taking him to a Greta Garbo movie; they are rather soppy.

Gosh, that's torn it: I was only explaining the title, and find I've given away the entire plot. But that always seems to be the way with Mr Brautigan's winsome and gruelly fictionettes. I was rather cross, actually, about the Perverse Mystery bit, because thinking up a subtitle is at least one way of using the vacant brain-space which reading Brautigan leaves one. Still, being a conscientious critic, I puzzled genially at the perverse mystery of his staggering popularity. How can it be that whole campuses crease themselves at a humour which seems no more than whacky cuteness? How is it, when others wonder at the 'precise coolness of language' The Times of this 'born writer' Sunday Times, that one feels appalled at the glaring and embarrassing bits of 'writing'?
A mind so sharp it could have picnicked on a razor blade . . . He hungered like a lost star for the cool evening of her inner touch . . . Sex had been to them like having a beautiful picnic in a field of comets . . . She sat down very carefully on the floor beside him as if she were sitting on a decayed spider web.
Picnic Imagery in Brautigan—now there's a thesis (don't miss the Muffet-references in the last quote). Finally, I wondered, how can anyone bear the pacelessness of it all? You plod through chapterino 8 (a whole page), which tells you how the Logan Brothers are waiting in a dingy hotel for a phone call to tell them where their bowling trophies are, and you are rewarded with this opening to chapterino 9:
Meanwhile—ess than a mile away from the tiny dingy hotel room where the Logan brothers waited for a telephone call which would provide them with the locations of the bowling trophies—Willard . . .
It's like following a strip cartoon every day—one step back for every two forward; terrific, of course, for those with spaced-out memories.