Having completed another of the 1001-books-you-must-read-before-you-die, I am left with a perverse mystery, or several actually. The book, Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery by Richard Brautigan, left me hanging and with more questions than when I started.
First of all, I chose this book from a fellow bookcrosser (www.bookcrossing.com) who was offering it up because it is from the 1001-BYMRBYD list. Because I am a bowler, the title itself intrigued me. I couldn't imagine a novel that was primarily about a man and his bowling trophies. Actually, in the end, the story wasn't that at all, but I'll get to that later.
So, the first perverse mystery came to me as I read about the Logan brothers who were exceptional bowlers and had won so many trophies that they had a special cabinet built to display them. Not only that, but the cabinet was located in a prominent location so that the three brothers could enjoy looking at them whenever they were home (and not bowling in order to win more trophies). Then, the house was broken into, the trophies were stolen, and only the trophies. Nothing else was taken from their house in which eight adults lived.
While I have won quite a few trophies for my bowling skills through the years, I only have a couple for which I am inordinately proud of the accomplishments they represent. While I still have them, I don't display them on my shelves (they are tucked away in closets). After the first one or two (especially in a family of bowlers where everyone has won lots of trophies), trophies become rather commonplace and ordinary.
But in this novel, the trophies are stolen, and it sets off a downhill slide for the Logan brothers. Bowling now forgotten, they go in search of the stolen trophies, leaving family (their mother who only bakes, their father who only can deal with transmissions and three sisters who are famous for doing something seven times though it is never revealed (another mystery?)) and jobs behind. The trio disintegrates over time into theft and, eventually, murder as they randomly go around the country in search of these bowling trophies. The next mystery to me is why? They could easily replace many of them with their bowling skills. But to them, it makes perfect sense.
At the same time, the men are looking for the trophies, the book goes back and forth to the other characters: Bob and Constance, John and Pat, and Willard. Bob and Constance are a married couple who have sexual issues related to venereal warts so they play sadistic The Story of O games and read aloud various lines from poems from the Greek Anthology (the few remaining lines that are left of the poetry) rather than deal with their messed up lives. Again, why (another perverse mystery)?
John and Patricia are their neighbors and own Willard (the only character that I even liked, but I digress), who is a papier-mache African bird with long legs that stands amongst the stolen trophies. Except for his changing expressions, Willard does nothing other than standing in the middle among his glittering trophies like a king surrounded by his lowly subjects. Willard is venerated by all who see him. Yet, the perverse mystery is how did this all come to be. How the trophies were stolen and by whom is never ever revealed. How they ended up with Willard (and John and Pat by extension) is never explained. It just is.
Like the whole novel, it just is. Yet, having finished it, I come to the biggest perverse mystery of them all. Why? Why is this considered a book that should be read? How was it chosen ? What am I missing? Is there some metaphor I should have come away with that makes it a valued read? (Yes, I see a few that I can understand, but ...) Simply put,this is a novel of the absurd--with absurd plot, absurd characters, and absurd language. But is it that great of novel? Is it truly great literature? And if so, why?
I think that may be is the perverse mystery of this novel...that someone thought it good enough to put on this arbitrary list of 1001-books.
And if so, give me pedestrian reads...like real mysteries that have answers.
Disclaimer: This is the first Richard Brautigan novel that I have ever read. It will probably be my last, too. On the other hand, another book from the list completed--check!
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