Finding this book was like the finding of the book's protagonist's lost love's strand of hair. Written in the guise of Brautigan himself, one story starts as that of a American humourist who is coming to terms with losing his girlfriend who left him because he was far too complicated. He begins to write a story about a sombrero that falls out of the sky, which lands in the centre of a small American town, in the Southwest. However, due to his misery of losing his girlfriend, he tears up the story and throws it into the waste-paper basket. This is where the story splits in two.
'...the pieces of white paper miraculaously found a bottom and lay upon it glowing faintly upward like a reverse origami cradled on the abyss.'
The torn up pieces of paper takes on a life of its own. A freezing cold sombrero falls out of the sky and lands on the ground only to cause lots of trouble for the small town and all its people. At first, the mayor, his cousin, and an unemployed man argue over who is going to pick the hat up for the mayor (who can't possibly pick it up as he is too important for such a job). The cousin and the unemployed man have their own motivations, the unemployed man thinks he might get a job if he picks the hat up and the cousin thinks he might be made mayor one day if he picks it up. Eventually, the cousin and unemployed man end up crying and crying, with both of them failing in their task of giving the sombrero to the mayor.
'As he tore up the sheet of paper with words on it about a sombrero falling from the sky, she slept and her hair slept with her: long and dark next to her.'
The second story which runs parallel to the sombrero story centres on the heartbroken writer who has lost his love. A Japanese girl called Yukiko who sleeps with her cat in her bed, dreams about many different things whilst the writer searches for a strand of her hair. Just like the sombrero is the focal point for the small American town, the hair of the Japanese woman is the writer's focal point. He adores her hair, the sight of her hair 'floating beside her like dark lilies makes them want to die and be transported to a paradise that is filled with sleeping Japanese women who never wake but sleep on for all time, dreaming beautiful dreams.' captures the essence of Brautigan's words.
Both stories running side by side in sometimes one or two page chapters, and with simple one word titles such as 'Japanese', 'Sombrero', 'Origami', make this a short read but nonetheless a well crafted book full of humour, sadness, with two strange tales pushed to their limits. With the sombrero, the town's folk get swept into the story and are all led like sheep, unknowingly rioting, beating each other up, and going to arms against America, for no reason other than a sombrero is sitting untouched on the floor with its temperature rising. Wit and humour run through the book much like many of his other stories, and moreover from sentence to sentence, from paragraph to paragraph laughter and melancholy are versed into one.
Sombrero Fallout is now out of print, but it is a well kept secret that it could be Brautigan's finest work. Possibly surpassing 'A Confederate General From Big Sur' and 'Trout Fishing in America', it is one of his later works (published in 1976), 8 years before he committed suicide and it gives a good first-person insight into the mind of the author. Vaguely auto-biographical, Sombrero Fallout touched upon many themes in Brautigan's life, his love of Japan, alcohol, his sense of humour, and just like his stories always far from dull.
Sombrero Fallout, Richard Brautigan, Rebel Inc 1998.