Reading The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson, one will soon realize the extent to which this story can be classified as a work of fiction. Less gonzo than F&L or The Curse of Lono, The Rum Diary is an interesting account of Thompson’s time spent in Puerto Rico, and it provides a fascinating look into the journalistic machinations involved with maintaining a newspaper on life-support. Indeed, this book is prescient in that it signaled what we know as true today, as anyone will be aware having watched The Wire that newspapers are struggling, some even losing the battle “to do more with less”. But it is a work of Dr. Thompson, and as such one cannot always tell where the journalism begins and the gonzo ends.
The story revolves around Thompson’s actual stint working for The San Juan Daily News, at a time when flights from New York to San Juan cost around fifty dollars. Basically, throw in a bunch of alcohol, barfights and general disarray in the newsroom, and The Rum Diary will soon enough end itself enjoyably. Two interesting facets surface along the way though. First, Thompson, as is his strength, surrounds the reader with an eclectic cast of characters, mostly fellow journalists with acumen ranging from intrepidly skillful to absurdly incompetent though all are predictably dysfunctional. Thompson, I think, admittedly includes himself with this group, this time under the alias as Paul Kemp. What’s important is that amid all the corruption within the Puerto Rican society, all the drama occurring within the newsroom, the journalists can’t seem to find, perhaps aren’t allowed, newsworthy stories for print. Consequently, they unknowingly create their own.
The other important aspect to the story is the detail in atmosphere that is characteristically Thompson. In addition to the sweltering heat, he also provides depth to the overall carefree nature yet sudden volatility experienced in Caribbean culture. In particular, he paints an engrossing, vivid, and nearly horrific picture of Carnival as it exploded during a side-trip to St. Thomas. Overall, this is a curious work of his that should be taken for what it’s worth; that is, whatever it is you make of it.
As an extra note, it looks like Johnny Depp is spearhedaing an effort to bring this to nearby theaters.
How about go and see a movie? This one looks especially curious. Don’t forget the popcorn and grapefruit.
Since I am considered a librarian (though it’s still hard to believe) by my employers, I thought I’d periodically submit a review of the stuff I’m digesting, literally speaking of course. So in the spirit of gonzo, here’s a review I recently posted on LibraryThing. It’s for The Curse of Lono, by Hunter S. Thompson. It very well may be the sequel to Fear and Loathing in LV, with Thompson in the twilight of his writing and Ralph Steadman going above and beyond the call of duty with both his appearance in the book as well as his vivid illustrations. For all the space devoted to the illustrations, there’s no reason not to consider this a graphic novel. I don’t know why this hasn’t been made into a movie yet. Weird. Terrifying. Fascinating. Pass the grapefruit.
The Curse of Lono – Hunter S. Thompson
I’ve just finished reading The Curse of Lono, and I’m surprised that this particular piece by Hunter S. Thompson is less appreciated or even overlooked in favor of his more popular works, particularly his adventure in Las Vegas. Lono is the perfect follow-up to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as it reflects the recipe which catapulted Thompson’s method of gonzo: travel to some exotic locale, cover some seemingly trivial yet ultimately bizarre sporting event, overstay your time exploring the local culture which will ultimately prove equally or even more entertaining than said sporting event, and finally hide in retreat after the blur of intoxication and savage alienation have been extolled upon friends, family, and locals. Not a bad formula, and not a bad writer.
I doubt that the similarity was deliberate to Fear and Loathing, but who really knows? Where Lono is unique is through the division of labor. Thompson’s presence is requested in Hawai’i to cover both the brutal exertion and mindset associated with the Honolulu Marathon; he covers it well, but predictably, the real action begins afterward. Unpredictably, accompanying Thompson during his exploits is the illustrator Ralph Steadman, along with each of their families. Without going into too much detail, his companions slowly dwindle due to the harsh conditions on the Kona coast in winter as well as the mental fatigue precipitating it, thereby leaving Thompson to associate with the more seedy element of Hawai’i (within which he fits nicely). Needless to say, chaos ensues, and the reader is exposed to a Hawai’i not normally described in tourist books. Marathons, deathly pounding surf, flooded cottages, elusive marlin hunting, Samoan war axes, dreaded red fleas, and mass quantities of alcohol make for a paradise reconsidered.
Intertwining parts of pure gonzo narrative, the lush, colorful drawings of Ralph Steadman, Thompson’s own correspondence, and excerpts of Hawaiian history and lore, The Curse of Lono is nearly as exhilarating as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; it’s an evident example of Hunter S. Thompson, in the twilight of his writing, creating yet another brilliant exposition that’s humorous, informative and entertainingly bizarre.