#21(8) reading: bongwater


Bongwater is Michael Hornburg’s first book, published in 1995. It tells the story of 3 twentysomethings in Portland. Courtney burned down the house she shared with David and ran away to New York. David had a crush on Jennifer and Jennifer ran away to New York to join Courtney. In the meantime, David met Mary and went on a road trip with her to visit his weed-growing friend Phil.

Nothing much else happens. Arguably David and Courtney are the main characters but they don’t meet up again till the end. Jennifer is the glue. Mary is somewhere in between. David crashes with two gay guys who steals Jennifer’s underwear. Courtney and Jennifer does a round of New York clubs and comes back to Portland.

The characters are cynical and innocent at the same time. They do drugs and each other. But no one judges. It just is. The end of the book doesn’t have resolution; instead there is the hint of a beginning.

I get confused between Gen X and Y. Of course I’m reading this book 15 years after it was published, and I think about those days in the early 1990s with nostalgia. Now I identify with them — not the drugs or alcohol or sex or partying, the sense that we are just observing and living our way through life.

Reviews are mixed. Some readers get it. Others find it boring and without plot. Even others dislike the prose. I liked it. It feels superficial, but is deeper than it appears. Was Mr Hornburg sending life lessons? No, of course not. It just is. I get the feeling that there’s a large autobiographical element in the book. Nothing wrong with it. It just is.