[(essay date 1998) In the following essay, Pietralunga compares Brautigan's Confederate General from Big Sur to some of the work of its Italian translator, finding biographical and literary similarities between the two writers.]
In his "Diario americano 1959-60," Italo Calvino writes about his impressions of Northern California and, in particular, of those scenic locations near the Monterey peninsula where a number of well known writers had established their residences. In the section entitled "Questi paradisi terrestri," Calvino observes:
dove viv ono gli scrittori americani, non ci starei morto. Non c'e' altro da fare che sbronzarsi. Un giovanotto che si chiama Dennis Murphy o qualcosa di simile che ha scritto un best-seller, The Sergeant, che ora gli ha tradotto Mondadori nella Medusa gli e' arrivata proprio ora la copia e me la mostra e crede che sia un piccolo editore--arriva al mattino con tutti i polsi feriti. La notte si e' sbronzato e ha spaccato a pugni le vetrate della sua villa. Di Henry Miller che vive qui a Big Sur sappiamo gia' che non riceve piu' nessuno perche' sta scrivendo. L'ultrasettantenne scrittore che ha sposato da poco una moglie diciannovenne dedica tutto il resto delle sue forze allo scrivere per finire prima di morire i libri che ancora vuol scrivere(Eremita a Parigi 103).
It is here in this so-called Pacific paradise where Richard Brautigan sets his 1964 novel Confederate General from Big Sur. A lengthy exchange of letters between the work's main characters, the narrator Jesse and his charismatic friend Lee Mellon, captures the tone of the novel and seems to corroborate Calvino's impressions of this haven of American writers. In these letters the lovelorn Jesse, who is unable to cope with big city life in San Francisco, hopes to join Lee Mellon at his makeshift retreat in Big Sur. Upon hearing of Jesse's wish to follow him to Big Sur, Lee Mellon replies: "Great! Why don't you come down here? I haven't got any clothes on, and I just saw a whale. There's plenty of room for everybody. Bring something to drink. Whiskey!" (54). Farther along in their correspondence when Jesse asks Lee Mellon how he keeps alive at Big Sur, the latter responds: "I've got a garden and it grows all year round! A 30:30 Winchester for deer, a .22 for rabbits and quail. I've got some fishing tackle and The Journal of Albion Moonlight. We can make it OK. What do you want, a fur-lined box of Kleenex to absorb the sour of your true love Cynthia, the Ketchikan and/or Battle Mountain cookie? Come to the party and hurry down to Big Sur and don't forget to bring some whiskey. I need whiskey!" (60). Jesse and Lee Mellon had met in San Francisco. Lee had just hitchhiked up from Big Sur where, along the way, he steals some money, a watch, and the keys to the car of a wealthy homosexual who had wanted him "to commit an act of oral outrage" (23) but was...