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.