Richard Brautigan is the very essence of a cult writer. Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1935, he had a difficult childhood and was committed to Oregon State Hospital aged twenty. He was treated with electroconvulsive therapy twelve times. Upon his release in 1956, Brautigan moved to San Francisco and began writing. His novels included Trout Fishing in America (1967), which proved popular with America’s emerging hippie movement. He died in 1984, after shooting himself in the head.
Several of Brautigan’s stories and poems include references to Marilyn, most notably ‘The Post Offices of Eastern Oregon’, featured in the collection Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970. The story is also posted on the F***YeahRichardBrautigan blog.
The story begins when the narrator visits a post office during a road trip with his Uncle Jarv:
“There was a large nude photograph of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. The first one I had ever seen in a post office. She was lying on a big piece of red. It seemed like a strange thing to have on the wall of a post office, but of course I was a stranger in the land.
The postmistress was a middle-aged woman, and she had copied on her face one of those mouths they used to wear during the 1920s. Uncle Jarv bought a postcard and filled it up on the counter as if it were a glass of water.
It took a couple of moments. Halfway through the postcard Uncle Jarv stopped and glanced up at Marilyn Monroe. There was nothing lustful about his looking up there. She just as well could have been a photograph of mountains and trees.
I don’t remember whom he was writing to. Perhaps it was to a friend or a relative. I stood there staring at the nude photograph of Marilyn Monroe for all I was worth. Then Uncle Jarv mailed the postcard. ‘Come on,’ he said.”
The story ends with a reference to a very different image of Marilyn:
“Strange is the thing that makes me recall all this again: the bears. It’s a photograph in the newspaper of Marilyn Monroe, dead from a sleeping pill suicide, young and beautiful, as they say, with everything to live for.
The newspapers are filled with it: articles and photographs and the like—her body being taken away on a cart, the body wrapped in a dull blanket. I wonder what post office wall in Eastern Oregon will wear this photograph of Marilyn Monroe.”