A Review of The Rum Diary

Page added: 1998
Last updated: Winter 2003

by Christine Othitis

HST's new-old book, The Rum Diary, is certainly his most memorable work after the many volumes of Gonzo Papers. Semi-autobiographical, The Rum Diary is lovingly and carefully written, not quite gonzo, although HST's linguistical stamp is certainly on every page.

For anyone who has ever read HST and felt that the only way to relate to HST was by dropping acid, spraying people with fire extinguishers or roaring off into the desert with an attorney, fear no longer. Raise your hand if you have ever:

- been in love with a friend's girl- or boyfriend
- worked for a doomed company with fatalistic employees
- lived in a strange land with strange people
- held more than one job in order to stay alive
- been roughed up by police
- been a victim of petty theft
- discovered that the light at the end of the tunnel was just the beginning of another tunnel

These things and more happen to Paul Kemp, a 30 year old journalist from New York, born and raised in St. Louis. After travelling through Europe, he decides to give Puerto Rico a try, landing a job with the Daily News, a struggling paper. The writers at the Daily News become his only real friends on the island - Robert Sala, the fatalistic photographer; Moberg, the weird crime reporter; Yeamon, who is "a nut"; and Lotterman, the editor and publisher. Yeamon's beautiful girlfriend, Chenault, interests Kemp since he glimpsed her at the airport in New York. However, she is unattainable, in more ways than one.

The Rum Diary is a work of great beauty. It is a wonder that it was never published sooner, for it is just as worthy as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Rum is as plotless as Kemp's own life, but his passion for Chenault and his observational skills are the real story. At thirty, Kemp feels he is "over the hump" and looks upon others with the sharp, dissectionary wit and insight that HST is so famous for.

Like the island breeze, Rum moves at a leisurely pace. The climax comes when Chenault disappears after a wild party on nearby St. Thomas island, and Lotterman leaves to find new money for the Daily News. The denouement falls rapidly, as suddenly everyone is running for their lives. Like most of HST's works, the book comes full circle.

Rum is also startling philosophical. We see the gonzo genius in embryo. Perhaps Paul Kemp is a projection of how HST thought he might end up if he lived to be that age, world worn and unmarried, only his typewriter and a couple of bags his possessions.

Whichever way your taste for gonzo blows, The Rum Diary is a treat for any fan who thought HST could write untraditional fiction.

If you haven't guessed already, Christine Othitis authors, maintains and illustrates The Great Thompson Hunt ;-)