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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire by Poe Ballantine

Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire by Poe Ballantine. Portland, Oregon: Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, 2006. ISBN: 0-9766311-1-3

This is one of those titles that just grabs you and won't let go, so you have to check the book out from your local library, and read it. Actually, the title reminded me of one of those Brautigans, like Watermelon Sugar, or Trout Fishing in America. I use the term “Brautigans” advisedly, because someone once said that eventually, everyone would be writing Brautigans instead of novels. And maybe that's what's actually happening with the current explosion of blogs! Brautigans may have been a precursor to blogging!

Well, maybe I'm misremembering my quote. Robert Adams may have coined the term “Brautigans” in his New York Review of Books piece called “Brautigan Was Here.” Nope, ubiquitous Google helped me track down the quote in less than 5 minutes:

"Perhaps, when we are very old, people will write 'Brautigans,' just as we now write novels,"
wrote Lew Welch in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner back in 1968, according to a Village Voice piece I located.

But I'm getting off the subject. Back to Decline. What we have here is a college student run amok. First at Humboldt State University, in the California Redwoods. When our protagonists parents suggest that he enroll in a

“real state university, and they're going to pay, it seems like an answer. It seems like salvation. It's like Linda Lovelace discovering her clitoris.”

That's pretty typical of the writing. Of course, college quickly becomes mostly a daze of beer, reefers and parties. Eventually he drops out, and begins to hitchhike across the US, ending up in Colorado Springs where he takes up working as a short-order cook. One day he gets a badly garbled phone call from his erstwhile college buddy, Mountain. “You didn't get my card?” he says amid the tangle of crackle and fuzz. And after some more bits and pieces of garbled conversation, “You'll love it”

A few days later, the mangled postcard shows up, from and with a gorgeous picture of Poisson Rouge Isle, a Caribbean paradise. On the back are 5 words only, printed in block letters:

“I found your Paradise, Johnny.”

No return address. No further information. On that slim basis, he heads off into the unknown.

Of course, life is not paradise in paradise. The conditions are squalid, with no electricity. Mosquitoes abound. And Mountain's insane jealousy makes life difficult. He's living with a 30-year-old but attractive woman, who flaunts herself at Johnny, and Mountain blames Johnny, not Kate, naturally. Plus there's a madman who lives in the jungle, and stalks white men with his machete. And a beautiful young black woman living nearby, who is a devout Catholic and hence, unavailable.

All of these conditions lead up to an inevitable climax, suitably Brautiganish in nature. I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Recommended for anyone who loves a good sixties-style debacle. Guess what? You can read chapter 20 online.

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