The Curse of Lono
by Hunter S. Thompson
Publisher – Bantam Books
Rating – 4/10
Summary – Thompson describes a 1980 trip to Hawai’i. He covers the Honolulu marathon and loafs on the Big Island, but he cannot make the trip interesting. Sadly, this is a disappointing book by a talented author.
Review – In May 1980, Paul Perry, the publisher of an obscure magazine titled Running bet that he could do what no one had been able to do for several years – get a good article out of Hunter S. Thompson. Perry proposed that Thompson cover the December Honolulu Marathon. Surprisingly, Thompson accepted the assignment then – three years later – took his experiences in Hawai’i and shaped them into the book The Curse of Lono.
Lono starts off promisingly enough. The first section has Thompson on a plane to Hawaii where he encounters a druggie named Ackerman. Ackerman’s most-distinguishing featuring is a blue arm that he got while trying to retrieve an item from the plane’s chemical toilet. The two men end up talking the plane’s lounge. The second scene is also pretty good and details Thompson’s antics during the marathon. Thompson has no great insights into the running craze, but he does provide recount some enjoyable anecdotes.
After these first couple of scenes, the book offers the reader little. The action moves from Oahu to the Island of Hawai’i (AKA “The Big Island”), but nothing interesting happens. The weather gets bad and Thompson does write some nice, rich descriptions of the churning ocean sweeping over his little house in Kona, Hawai’i. However, other than riding out the storm on land and taking a hellish fishing expedition, Thompson does little. The prose never “catches fire,” though the reader can sense Thompson trying to find some thread that will push the story forward. Sadly, the magic is gone.
The book is short and padded with other authors’ accounts of Captain Cook’s visit to Hawai’i. Far from helping the book, the padding makes Thompson’s thin contributions to Lono seem skimpier, even more inconsequential. Much better are Ralph Steadman’s grotesque, full-color drawings that – as usual – capture the Gonzo mood. (Steadman’s sketch (p. 14) of Ackerman emerging from the chemical toilet and trying to hide his blue arm makes the book worth picking up).
“Prisoner of Gonzo”
In my humble opinion, from the time of Thompson’s first major sale in 1961 until he finished Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in 1973, there was no better writer working. After 1973, Thompson was finished. To be sure, he published several good works after 1973 (The Great Shark Hunt (1978), the novel The Rum Diary (1998), and his books of letters), but those were all written during the period I mentioned above.
In When The Going Gets Weird, a good 1993 biography of Thompson, Peter Whitmer states that eventually Thompson became a “Prisoner of Gonzo.” In other words, the image that Thompson created for himself became as much a burden as a blessing. As Thompson’s fame grew, it became almost impossible for him to work as a conventional journalist. At the same time, his substance abuse was taking a toll, his personal life was in shambles, and his work ethic disappeared. Thompson’s writing eventually flamed out.
Instead, over the last 30 years of his life, Thompson devolved into a sort of a pathetic performance artist, playing an aged Uncle Duke. He could show flashes of talent, but his writing was hugely disappointing. Sadly, The Curse of Lono shows just how far Thompson had fallen in a few short years.
Thompson’s most-ardent fans generally don’t want to hear anything negative about the man. While I am a fan of Thompson and I don’t regret reading Lono, I found the book to be typical of his later work – slapdash, self indulgent, and disappointing. For great Gonzo, you have many options (Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, etc.). Lono is several cuts below Thompson’s best and should be read only by true Thompson diehards.