Sombrero Fallout, by Richard Brautigan
A sombrero falls out of the sky. The sombrero is not from Mexico but it does have an owner, although that owner is far away. The sombrero falls from nowhere, for no apparent reason. The sombrero is cold and its arrival will have a tremendous impact on the three men who saw it land and on society in general. The three men are the Mayor, the Mayor’s cousin and an unemployed man. For two of these three, the opportunity to pick up the cold sombrero will appear life-changing.
All of this sombrero related action is taking place in a dustbin in the apartment of a well-known American humourist (with every bookshop carrying at least one of his titles). The American humourist is feeling very depressed. And hungry. His beautiful Japanese girlfriend has left him. There are absolutely no hamburgers, tins of tuna, eggs or avocados in the apartment. To distract himself, the American humourist sits at his typewriter and begins to write a story. It is the story of a sombrero that falls out of the sky. Not knowing where this story is heading, the American humourist takes the paper from his typewriter and throws it away. And cries.
Sombrero Fallout was written during the time when Richard Brautigan’s work was experiencing a downturn in popularity. Depressed that his novels were no longer selling in any great numbers, Brautigan was to commit suicide in 1984 and the seeds of his depression can be seen in the tortured (or should that be torturing?) imagination of the American humourist. Despite his success and apparently current popularity, the American humourist is plagued with self-doubt and, obsessed with what and who his ex-girlfriend might be doing without him, is unable to complete any new work.
Despite the obvious dark tones, Sombrero Fallout is, however, really a true black comedy and there are some hilarious moments. In his introduction to this edition, Jarvis Cocker suggests the Ghost chapter (and its speculative “ghost-like energy force with a penis) to be among the best of Brautigan’s humour but arguably the antics concerning the sombrero are even funnier than the traumas occurring within the mind of the American humourist. While a lot of it is undeniably bonkers, there is something strangely compelling about the paranoia of the American humourist and of the story within a story that is playing out in his dustbin.
Sombrero Fallout is a wickedly funny and highly original tale and is every bit as good as Brautigan’s better known books, Trout Fishing in America and Watermelon Sugar. Perhaps at its heart a poignant story of lost love and a heart-rending exploration of what it means to be alone, Sombrero Fallout is a wonderfully surreal novel in which Brautigan celebrates the joy of the mundane and the strange twists and turns that life can take.