Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary
Gonzo in the Caribbean
Fans of Hunter S. Thompson’s best-known works may find themselves a bit impatient with The Rum Diary. Then again, the pace of life in the Caribbean does not approach that of Las Vegas or the campaign trail. Written nearly a decade before his Fear and Loathing series — with its swirling gonzo journalistic prose — was first published, this fever dream of a novel is drenched both in alcohol and self-examination.
Ending up in San Juan, Puerto Rico to write for a failing newspaper, Thompson’s alter ego Jack Kemp discovers that there is not much to do in paradise but drink with colleagues Sala and Yeamon — and lust after Yeamon’s stunning (and self-destructively accommodating) girlfriend, Chenault. Alternating jarringly between moody internal monologues and a series of increasingly violent and frenzied incidents, Diary reaches its inebriated pinnacle during an ill-advised group outing to St. Thomas through description more akin to the drug-fueled mania normally associated with its author.
Campbell Scott interprets Thompson’s prose in an almost noir fashion, giving the softer, more reflective moments a steelier edge. This Jack Kemp sounds more cynical and cautious than his words would lead one to believe. By the time his colleague says, “Hell, it’s no fun anymore — our luck’s all running out at the same time,” Kemp’s world-weariness has become a character in and of itself; one that drinks not to obliterate hopelessness, but to enable the kind of delirium that Kemp’s real-world counterpart would eventually make the hallmark of his much heralded later works.