Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel, 1942 by Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan is my favorite American author; Dreaming of Babylon, however, isdreaming of babylon not one of his better books.

Originally published in 1977, the novel belongs to that group of morbid, thinly-allegorized suicide notes Brautigan indulged in towards the end of his life that includes the novels So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away and the posthumously published An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey.  Dreaming of Babylon follows a day in the life of down-on-his-luck private eye C. Card as he attempts to work a potentially well-paying job.  Thwarting him along the way are two types of obstacles – quotidian ones related to his real life (such as not having bullets for his gun, not having a car, not having rent money, etc.), and fantastical ones related to the book’s title.  C. Card routinely drifts into reveries about an imaginary “Babylon” so vivid and complex that he functionally blacks out and loses time, and the novel traces his struggle to keep these overpowering daydreams at bay while he works an unusual case.

Seasoned readers of Brautigan may already notice this book’s similarity to his earlier Sombrero Fallout, which also featured parallel stories unfolding in fictional and “real” space, but whereas those narratives were integrated, in Dreaming of Babylon, Brautigan can barely conceal his lack of interest in the hard-boiled detective genre he has decided to employ.  Rather than subvert or deconstruct the tropes of detective fiction, he abandons them (and the reader) completely by having his main character simply show up late to the novel’s climax, thereby missing the solution to the book’s minor mystery.

While the surreal sequences set in the book are poetic and enjoyable, the vile characters, the unnecessarily “rough” voice of the narrator, and repetitious plot stymie this otherwise brisk read; however, since it is Richard Brautigan, I still recommend it for any adventurous reader out there.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)