There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Abortion on the bus

Finished Richard Brautigan's "The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966," the second of three Brautigan books I'm reading while commuting to and from work on the bus.

This is a story about a man who works and lives in a San Francisco library where authors bring books. No one ever checks the books out. A special bell announces when an author arrives to deposit a book.

It is not a large bell, but it travels intimately along a small silver path that knows the map to our hearing.
And when the library begins to overflow, the books are stored in caves in Northern California and drunkenly watched over by Foster, the perennially t-shirted guy with useful connections.

This is also the story of a girl named Vida, whose body is so beautiful that it causes accidents when seen in public. She doesn't believe its her body. She thinks it must belong to someone else. She has written a book.
"It's about this," she said and suddenly, almost hysterically, she unbuttoned her coat and flung it open as if it were a door to some horrible dungeon filled with torture instruments, pain and dynamic confession. ... She had a fantastically full and developed body under her clothes that would have made the movie stars and beauty queens and showgirls bitterly ooze dead make-up in envy.
She is befriended by the librarian and one thing leads to another and soon she begins to feel at home in her body and then she finds herself pregnant and decides to have an abortion.

Even though the book says more than once that people often go to Sacramento to get abortions, the librarian calls upon Foster to make arrangements with a doctor he knows in Tijuana.

When Foster finally meets Vida we get the fullest sense of Vida's beauty:
My God, ma'am, you're so pretty I'd walk ten miles barefooted on a freezing morning to stand in your shit.
Having spent a couple of years in San Diego when I was in the Navy in the early 1970s, I have certain sympathy for Vida's unwillingness to spend any time there in 1966:
"There are too many unlaid sailors there and everything is either stone stark or neon cheap."
Published in 1971, the subject of casual sex and pregnancy and a subsequent abortion must have been considered avant-garde. Viewed through the lens of 34 years of Roe v. Wade, the book takes the flavor of a cautionary tale.

At the abortionist's office, waiting with other customers, the librarian considers a teenager accompanied by her parents, and muses:
Alas, the innocence of love was merely an escalating physical condition and not a thing shaped like our kisses.
I love Brautigan's imagery. Describing a cloudy day in San Franscisco:
Clouds have been playing with the blue style of the sky all day long, moving their heavy black wardrobes in, but so far nothing rain has happened.
When the librarian first meets Vida and tells her he enjoys his job:
"It's good you're happy," she said. She said the word happy as if she were looking at it from a great distance through a telescope. The word sounded celestial upon her mouth, stark and Galilean.
The librarian is fretting about stepping outside the library for a moment:
"Come on now!" Vida said. "Let your granny gland relax a little and slow down those rocking chair secretions."
Vida and the librarian, sipping whiskey and relaxing:
After a while Vida and I were so relaxed that we both could have been rented out as fields of daisies.
Bottom line: This is another fun Brautigan book. Highly recommended.

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