The Rum Diary
The Rum Diary was the first novel written by Hunter S. Thompson, while he was, according to his own account, still honing his craft. Written when Thompson was in his early twenties and published when he was in his fifties, the novel showcases the brilliant musical style Thompson became known for.
The story is situated in Puerto Rico and deals with the adventures of Paul Kemp, a journalist who gets work in a small English language newspaper in San Juan. The story follows Kemp and two of his co-workers, Yeamon and Sala, from the Newspaper, who, even before Kemp has a chance to get acclimated, tell him that the newspaper will very likely be shut down soon. Kemp meets Chenault, a very good looking girl whom he is immediately smitten with.
Kemp is an alcoholic and his boss tells him to stop drinking. While waiting for an interview, Kemp meets Sanderson, a real estate agent, who invites him back to his lovely beach home to discuss the possibility of Kemp writing some ads for him. There Kemp finds Chenault again. He learns that she is engaged to Sanderson.
Kemp moves in with Sala. The place they live in is terribly neglected and run down. To make matters worse Sala breeds roosters for cockfighting and keeps them indoors. Kemp notices the poverty in San Juan, and wants to write about it but his boss forbids it because according to him “it would be bad for tourism.”
One day Kemp goes over to visit Sanderson and spies on the two young lovers (Sanderson and Chenault) having sex. Afterwards he meets a couple of other characters Zimburger and Segarrra, who work with Sanderson and who want to talk him into helping them with a real estate scam they are concocting. At one point Sanderson picks a fight with some locals who are walking on “his beach”. Later when Sala and Kemp are driving the locals catch up to them attack them. The police arrive and break up the fight, and haul Sala and Kemp to Jail. Sanderson bails them out.
The following day, Kemp meets Sanderson and the rest of his crew, who confide in him that the US army is going to be giving up several acres of prime, beach-front Real Estate. Then he’s sent off to collect Chenault from her house. The two share a bit of an intimate moment.
Zimburger takes Kemp and Sala out to see the property they’ve been discussing on the island, after which they go to St. Thomas for Carnival. There Kemp runs into Chenault, and they end up on Sanderson’s boat. Sensing something is amiss between them, Sanderson becomes uneasy. In the evening, when the group goes out to enjoy the Carnival night life, the group ends up in a club, where Chenault gets drunk and starts dancing with the locals, this infuriates Sanderson even more.
Chenault disappears after that for some time and the next day Sanderson tells Kemp he’s blown his chance to be in on the deal. When Sala and Kemp return home, Moberg (a devout alcoholic and experimental drug user) sells them some drugs, which they take (this is Hunter S. Thompson after all) and in a drug and rum induced stupor Kemp and Sala wander around San Juan.
Kemp writes a great story for the newspaper, but Lotterman, his boss, refuses to publish the story. Chenault shows up at Kemp’s place because Sanderson has broken up with her and kicked her out, he also withdrew his bail, and so Sala and Kemp now have a warrant out for their arrest. Lotterman shuts down the paper, but Kemp decides to print a final issue to expose Lotterman and Sanderson. But in order to do that he must get a sizable chunk of money to run the print. The adventure that ensues is a blast.
Even in his younger and less drug infused years, Hunter S. Thompson manages to put together a pretty odd and colorful story in his opera prima, The Rum Diary.