‘The Rum Diary’ is a journalistic tale

Hailey Griffin, Arts Editor

“The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson is a story of dead-end adventure, dicey opportunities, drunken affairs, and apathetic journalists. Thompson started the novel in 1959, but it wasn’t published until 1998. 

“The Rum Diary” takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s. Paul Kemp, a freelance journalist who writes for the New York Times, narrates the story. Kemp is a languid sort, the type of person who has aspiration but lacks enthusiasm.

He is confident, but not overzealous. He takes the obstacles that San Juan presents him in strides, all the while maintaining a “comfortably detached” demeanor. 

Kemp arrives in the lazy island town of San Juan with anticipation, anxious to begin his job at San Juan’s Daily News. Quickly, Kemp learns that the Daily News is nothing like he expected it to be.

Kemp’s boss, Lotterman, is a cranky, deceitful individual who struggles to fund the Daily News. Among Kemp’s other coworkers are Bob Sala, a sharp-tongued, short-fused photographer; Fritz Yeamon, a cocky, maniacal staff writer; Nick Segarra, the editor and influential frontman for the Daily News; Sanderson, an optimistic reporter with a pseudo-confident demeanor; and Moberg, a drunken reporter with a tendency to go AWOL.

An unlikely duo, Kemp and Yeamon tend to keep each other company during their downtime. Yeamon’s girlfriend, Chenault, often accompanies the unlikely pair, whether they’re headed to Al’s Restaurant for a burger or the nearest bar for a half-gallon of rum. Rum is plentiful in San Juan; Kemp drinks at almost any chance he gets.

Things start to go a bit haywire towards the end of “The Rum Diary.” Yeamon, Kemp, and Chenault travel to a small island near San Juan to cover a story about a carnival.

During their time on the island, Chenault goes missing. Fortunately, she reappears days later. In a turn of events, Kemp and Chenault develop a romantic relationship upon her return.

The Daily News struggles to stay afloat due to a lack of financial support. After days without pay, the employees at the Daily News become furious.

A brawl between the Daily News staff occurs at the San Juan Chamber of Commerce, which results in both Yeamon and Kemp fleeing from San Juan. Kemp’s time in Puerto Rico ends as abruptly as it started.

I was very impressed by “The Rum Diary,” especially when I considered that Thompson wrote it at the age of 22. The emotions that fuel Thompson’s narrative belong to that of a mature soul, not someone in their early 20s.

Thompson was a talented, unique individual who will remain an icon for years to come. His writing style sparks creativity and sentiment in those who appreciate subjective journalism. If you haven’t read this book, I highly, highly recommend it.