Friday, November 04, 2016

"1/3, 1/3, 1/3" (1971)

Read story by Richard Brautigan online.

Richard Brautigan was once an infatuation for me, around the time this story appeared in a 1971 collection, or shortly after. I think the appeal was his kind of gentle tone of hippie insouciance, which served his verbal absurdities reasonably well. It hasn't aged that well though, since even before his suicide in 1984. This very short story helps me remember the reasons for both liking him and abandoning him. The first-person narrator describes an invitation he has received to collaborate on a literary work. He will do the typing, the young woman inviting him on board will do the editing, and a middle-aged man living in a trailer nearby will write it. The proceeds will be split equally—"1/3, 1/3, 1/3," per title. The narrator is invited because he has a typewriter. Toward the end of the story a sample of the work is reproduced, and it is hardly even literate. Which is not surprising, given these characters. What surprises me is finding it in an anthology edited by Raymond Carver for an ambitious anthology in the '80s (American Short Story Masterpieces), intended as a response or addendum to another ambitious anthology, edited by Robert Penn Warren and released in 1954 (Short Story Masterpieces), which set out to chronicle the short story in the first half of the century. I do believe I detect some bias toward West Coast writers in the Carver collection, but I'm mostly OK with it. I'm even OK seeing Brautigan included, although I think his work does best isolated to its own whimsical contexts. Excerpts as poems, stories, and/or passages often suffer alone and in the open. The characters here read to me first as willful ignoramuses, and then finally as just ignoramuses. I have no idea what they think they are doing, even less what Brautigan intended by it. An incident reminiscent of the scenario actually happened to me once. An apartment building manager where I lived knew I was a writer and approached me one day, wanting to know if I was interested in reading a novel he had been working on, inspired by reading Stephen King's The Stand. A couple of weeks later he knocked on my door and presented me with two pages of single-spaced typewritten copy. It was a scene from the rooftop of our building, to which only he had access, overlooking downtown Seattle, ravaged by a plague. The narrator was a little disturbingly gleeful about the scene, and there was lots of random violence, as much as you could get into 900 words. I told him it was a good start and he should keep at it. It looked like a big story. He told me it was going to be even bigger than The Stand. It was not as illiterate as the manuscript in Brautigan's story, but close. If enough people have stories like mine, then "1/3, 1/3, 1/3" is really going to resonate.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

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