There's this guy. You don't know what he's called (but, at a push, it might be Richard). He's a writer. No. Scratch that. He describes himself as "an American humourist". You get the impression he is known and respected and all of the things any writer wants. He has just split with his long-term Japanese girlfriend Yukiko. Or rather, she has just split with him, after two years. The parting is not amicable. She is fed up with him. She has decided no more writers. She will never date a writer again. Writers are too high-maintenance. It may be, in time, she will look back on the times they have shared with something like fondness, but not yet, not now, not at the moment. At the moment, she wants to put those two wasted years behind her. The American humourist is understandably devastated. He is awake while Yukiko is sleeping and dreaming with her cat across town. He tries to write.
He starts a story about a sombrero that falls from the sky. We don't know why. The sombrero just fell from the sky. We don't know how it got there. Just that it fell from the sky. The mayor, the mayor's aspiring cousin and an unemployed man converge on the hat.
At which point the American humourist tires of the sombrero, takes the paper from his typewriter and tears it into a million pieces before depositing said pieces in his wastepaper basket. The American humourist spends the rest of the novel trying to fill the gap left by Yukiko. Filling the gap involves thinking about food, searching for lost Japanese hair and thinking about what might have been.
While that is going on, the sombrero story (the story torn up and abandoned by the American humourist) develops a life of its own down there in the wastepaper basket. The mayor, the mayor's cousin and the unemployed man fall out about the sombrero. There is a riot. The national guard is called out. There are running gun battles, civilian casualties, chaos, the threat of civil war. The president makes a speech that comes to rival the Gettysburg Address. All that from a sombrero that falls from the sky.
None of which is really the point.
Gustave Flaubert said that language was like a cracked kettle on which we play tunes for bears to dance to hoping to move the stars to pity. I always think of this whenever I read anything by Brautigan. It's true of "Sombrero Fallout". It's true of "Revenge of the Lawn". It's true of "A Confederate General from Big Sur". It's true of pretty much anything. I can picture him there, in a forest clearing with the remains of last night's fire burned out in front of him, the old cracked copper kettle upturned between his legs and all those bears dancing - bears dancing as far as the eye can see - and maybe rain, maybe a light rain because those stars are pitying, those stars are moved, those stars haven't seen the like and won't see the like again.
I'm loathe to try and pick a single example of exactly what I mean but I've just been playing Virgilian lots (I think that's what it's called, when you open a book at random anywhere and see what you can see) and I've found this. Here's Brautigan. He's talking about Yukiko's "beautiful laugh (which) was like rain water pouring over daffodils made from silver". Could be that does nothing to you. Tell you something though. It makes me shiver. A lot of writers, reading comes to resemble panhandling for gold. You're there, holding the book in the water, trying to decide if that was gold or grit, unable to tell for sure. With Brautigan, it's all there. Each book is a bag of gold. You don't gotta do anything, just sit back and take it all in. Each book is a bag of gold and each grain shines.