Richard Brautigan dedicated "Sombrero Fallout" — his seventh novel, published in 1976 — to writer Junichiro Tanizaki. Indeed, he echoes Tanizaki in the worship of his protagonist, a Japanese woman named Yukiko. "She had a beautiful laugh which was like rain water pouring over daffodils made from silver," writes Brautigan.

Sombrero Fallout, by Richard Brautigan

187 pages.
Simon & Schuster, Fiction.

Yukiko's ex-lover is a humorist in San Francisco — a neurotic mess with no sense of humor. Agonizing over their breakup one night, a story that he tossed in the wastepaper basket magically continues: A sombrero falls out of the sky in Arizona, provoking confused competition as to who should pick it up. And soon clumsiness and belligerence spiral into an absurd standoff with the U.S. Army.

Only the dreamy and down-to-earth Yukiko is not portrayed as ridiculous. Her poetically innocent sleep is juxtaposed with the clownish brutality of the small-town riot, which is viewed as inherently American. For the tormented humorist — and, by extension, a violence-plagued America — salvation comes in the form of Japanese peacefulness.

Brautigan's casual style can slip into the juvenile, but the evocativeness of the declarative sentences let the prose breathe like good haiku. Lines such as "her hair slept long and Japanese about her" might smack of Orientalism, yet here they capture an American's fascination with a Japanese woman.

The novel was published the same year that Brautigan moved to Tokyo, where he chased his own dreams of peace and romance. (Nicolas Gattig)

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