In this posthumously released novel, Richard Brautigan's voice--quipping, punning, strewn with non sequiturs--comes like a rattling of chains. Brautigan took his own life in 1984; An Unfortunate Woman was written in the years immediately preceding, and the writer's imminent death haunts the book. It bears the subtitle A Journey, and Brautigan means this quite literally. We follow the first-person narrator in his peregrinations from Montana to San Francisco to New York to Alaska to Honolulu and back to San Francisco, with a detour across the bay to Berkeley--and that's leaving out Canada altogether. Pulling him like a wispy thread throughout is the hanging death of a San Francisco housemate who had cancer. We never learn her story, just that his book's "main theme is an unfortunate woman." She's a constant glancing reference.
Brautigan uses a journal format, with digressions galore, to explore the contingency of his own existence. He tells of loves past, homes past, the kitchens of friends and the beds of strangers. But like the old free-lovin' hippie he is, he never commits to any single story. Of one fellow he meets in Ketchikan: "He is one of those people who in a normal book, unfortunately not this one, would be developed into a memorable character." The author is forever warning you of a digression ahead or a story he'll get back to later. His references to the book in progress read, in this rueful context, not so much as self-indulgent cuteness, but as a kind of sad knowledge of the unkempt ways of his own mind. An Unfortunate Woman will not bring Brautigan many new fans, but devoted readers will find the dark, self-revealing side of a man who felt middle age like a blow to the head. --Claire Dederer [via]