Fear and loathing, aphorism and malediction, mischief and indigence, fill this galvanically gonzo collection of Thompson's early letters.
The omnipresence of telephones and e-mail probably ensure that Thompson (Songs of the Doomed, 1990, etc.) will be one of the last of the great letter writers. But even in more epistolary times, few could rival the approximately 20,000 missives to his name. He came of age in the early 1950s, a silver age of American literature when a writing life was still considered heroic, and colossi like Faulkner and Hemingway bestrode the earth. From an early age Thompson felt himself destined for similar literary greatness, and so he carefully made carbon copies of every letter he sent. Though the sheer bulk of this collection makes one wish he'd been a little less conscientious, there are some gems here. Thompson writes the kinds of letters most of us wish we had the guts to send. He brilliantly berates agents for rejecting his work, sends out rude, fantastical excuses to his creditors, applies insultingly for a variety of jobs, and even offers his services to Lyndon Johnson as the governor of American Samoa. Thompson is one of our great polemical stylists, and these letters reveal just how seriously he approached the craft of writing (belying his trademark hell-raising insouciance). He is also preoccupied with something that concerns many great artists: lack of funds. Almost every letter finds him trying to scrounge up money. Biographically, these letters take Thompson from his stint in the air force to his early attempts to break into journalism, following his peregrinations across the Americas and on to his first great success, his 1967 book on the Hell's Angels.
Although this collection is too much of a good thing, one can't help looking forward to subsequent volumes: Thompson is just so damned entertaining.