book review: you can’t catch death

by Ianthe Brautigan

Told as a series of vignettes, the book describes one daughter’s relationship with her father, who eventually kills himself. I am on a memoir kick, and can’t remember who recommended the book to me, but it was a lovely read.

Mrs. Brautigan’s father was a famous writer and throughout the book famous people flit in and out, seemingly to behave like the real people that they are. Her father split his time between San Francisco and a ranch outside of Bozeman. Ianthe did the same.

Pictures of her, and her father, are interspersed thought-out the book. By page 100 I felt the suicide and her relationship to her father had been well and interestingly covered. I was ready to move on, until I remembered that a mini-mystery was also involved in the book. We know from the book jacket that Mr. Brautigan had cut off all relationship to his family in his early twenties, but we don't know why. The cut was so final that for years Mrs. Brautigan did not know anything about her grandmother: not her name and not where she lived. I kept reading to find out the why. I suppose I never got any closure on that point, something I only noticed now as I was typing this.

So far as learning from how this memoir is pieced together, I really liked how some of her chapters are very long and some are only one line. I thought her chapter titles were superb, and I usually skip over chapter titles. She deftly interweaves clips of her father’s writing where apt in the book as well. I also found the length informative: 209 pages. Books take as long to tell as they take, but I find good examples of lengths worthy of noting. Finally, I loved how she put in information that was inter generational. We hear not only about her fears for her father, but her fears for herself and her daughter.

There were a few instances where she repeated something she had already told me, which I found annoying. And one quote had a typo in it...strange that I noticed.

This is a book to read. Well done, fast, and really gives you a glimpse into, not only the past, but also the pain of living with someone who is mentally ill, yet genius.

ps I also noted that Ianthe worked at Chico Hot Springs in the late 70's at the same time my parents drove across the US and considered buying the hot springs. I wonder if I already crossed paths with her. Funny.

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