“And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…”
Hunter S. Thompson is the writer that Jack Kerouac wishes he was. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I finally picked up this novel. Certainly I had seen the movie adaptation of Terry Gilliam, and I’d read Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels,” which remains one of my favorite novels. Like many things in life, my impressions of this novel were off the mark due to popular culture featuring only the most salient aspects of this book.
And how could it not? What with so much drug and alcohol abuse, it’s no wonder this story became a beacon to burn outs and stoners everywhere, looking to justify their recreational drug use. Unsurprisingly, they missed the point. Or maybe those people never even read the novel at all.
Regardless, Fear and Loathing is not just a tale of two losers seeing who can overdose first in a Las Vegas hotel room. It is a story about post ’60s America, what it means to live in that time, and how it all came crashing down. The disease which Thompson seeks to cure through copious amounts of drugs was called Nausea by Sartre, and the Absurd by Camus. It’s the idea that what our minds and souls tell us is normal is completely out of step with reality, out of step with an empty universe. In Thompson’s case, this comes after a period (the late ’60s) when he was so sure it had all been figured out, and things were going towards the right path, only to find that nothing had been solved at all. In this way the novel is an allegory for the American psyche of the ’70s. If the Altamont speedway concert was the funeral for the 1960′s, Fear and Loathing is the obituary.
Thompson is one of those rare writers (like Vonnegut) who seems to constantly be breaking the rules of prose and fiction, but is able to get away with it because his style could not function in any other way. His voice is not contrived, the reader images Thompson actually telling the story directly to them. The strange metaphors and images he provides seem to the reader to be the only way he can express what he feels. I mention Kerouac because it’s easy to imagine both writers sitting at their type writers, pounding away furiously at long stream of consciousness paragraphs. However unlike Kerouac who went around with a bunch of interesting people and watched them try to find the American Dream, Thompson actually took it upon himself to do all the heavy lifting, the heavy living.