As an admirer of Hunter S. Thompson most of my life, I was severely delighted recently to discover that he'd written a Fear and Loathing-style book about the Hawaiian Islands.
I was pretty sure I'd read everything he'd written, or at least knew about everything. Not so. This book, copiously illustrated by the writer's longtime collaborator Ralph Steadman, was published in 1983 but quickly went out of print. Which makes no sense, because The Curse of Lono is probably Thompson's most enjoyable work.
After seeing a number of used copies for sale online for $50 and up, I finally found one for $12.50 at a bookshop in Reno, Nev. It arrived last week and I promptly devoured the sucker. You see, I absolutely love Hawaii and will be forever haunted by its immense beauty and spirit. And I hold in especially high regard Thompson's nearly psychotic and most certainly artificially stimulated approach to journalism. The Curse of Lono combines all of that madness and much, much more.
The Curse of Lono is no love letter to Hawaii, mind you. Early in the book Thompson sets the tone by calling the islands "this harsh little maze of volcanic zits out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."
Thompson and his travel partners, in the islands to cover the Honolulu Marathon for a sports magazine, encounter incessantly terrible weather and a series of sordid mishaps that turn expectations of a laid-back vacation into a severe case of raw nerves and, well, fear and loathing. Here's a snapshot:
"They call it 'Kona Weather'; gray skies and rough seas, hot rain in the morning and mean drunks at night, bad weather for coke fiends and boat people. A huge ugly cloud hangs over the island at all times, and this goddamn filthy sea pounds relentlessly up on the rocks in front of my porch. The bastard never sleeps or even rests; it just keeps coming, rolling, booming, slamming down on the rocks with a force that shudders the house every two or three minutes."
He describes the treacherous ocean around the Big Island as "Forty thousand feet deep in some places, within sight of the Kona Coast. Eight miles straight down, like falling off a cliff. It would take a long time for a body to sink eight miles down to the ocean floor. It is pitch-black down there, absolute darkness. Not even sharks swim that deep. But they will probably get you on the way down, somewhere in that hazy blue level around 300 feet, where the light begins to fade. Bobbing around on a boat the size of a pickup truck in 40,000 feet of blue water is not a good place to get weird with anybody, much less the captain of the boat. Or even a deckhand. Nobody at all."
For me, unearthing this book felt like making the acquaintance of a long, lost friend. An exceptionally entertaining but dangerous, totally wacked-out friend.