Great stories happen to those who know how to tell them. This sums up my respect for Hunter S. Thompson. I read his books in junior high and went slack-jawed at his gonzo lifestyle. He felt like the patron saint of breaking out from the bureaucratic, life killing nonsense, infested with an anger over what the suits had done with the world. Keep in mind that was junior high.
Now what impresses me about his writing is his ability to spin a yarn from what would be the most mundane material in non-gonzo hands. I picked up THE GREAT SHARK HUNT a couple weeks ago because I needed a cheap paperback to read by the pool. SHARK HUNT is a collection of essays, short and long, on everything across the Thompson spectrum: Nixon, Las Vegas, drugs, beatniks, South America, it’s the fear and loathing world tour. Some are overbearing in his deranged otherness, others are of a younger, more sane style that are refreshing in their raw, honest approach. The man knew how to write, he just created a character he couldn’t write himself out of.
The title essay of THE GREAT SHARK HUNT tells of a trip Thompson took to cover a deep sea fishing contest. This should be a boring story of plane flights, ugly hotels, and complaining how on work trips one never gets to see the local scenery. With Thompson, the world’s least reliable employee, what the reader gets is a coke-fueled tornado of expense fraud and running from the local cartel. Or Thompson thinks he’s on the run, because not only is he the most unreliable employee, he’s not exactly reliable as a narrator either. He replaces drugs with sleep and spirals into a paranoia where all he sees are watching him, stalking him, biding their time until through some cunning plan they attack. But if we step back we can see the real reality. The airport page is not a trap; the airline is trying to make sure he doesn’t miss his flight. He paints us the psychedelic-colored picture through his eyes and the picture of the sun-burnt, Budweiser guzzling tourist next to him. To me, this is his greatness. The shark hunt itself (or one of them) is a throwaway paragraph. The real white-knuckle moments come when he has to wait for a layover. He shows how any situation, no matter how mundane, can be a comical, reality-spinning brain warp. It’s not the story, it’s how it’s told.