Don Carpenter, a novelist and sometime screenwriter whose unflinching examinations of disheveled lives won more critical acclaim than popular favor, took his life Thursday in a tiny, cluttered apartment in Mill Valley, Calif., where he had lived, worked, raged, exulted and suffered for the last 15 years. He was 64.
Hailed as a serious literary figure from the moment his first novel, “A Hard Rain Falling,” was published in 1966, Carpenter, whose later works included “Blade of Light” (1968), “Getting Off,” (1971), “A Couple of Comedians,” (1979) and the movie “Payday,” (1973), had not published a novel in six years.
According to his family and friends, Carpenter, who had a deep distrust of doctors, had been so distressed by a mounting series of medical maladies, including diabetes, tuberculosis, and allergies, that a major emotional comfort in recent years had been the knowledge of the gun he kept in the top drawer of his desk.
When he finally used it Thursday he was replaying one of the most troubling chapters of his life, the 1984 suicide of his closest friend, the writer Richard Brautigan.
“It would be my suspicion that Richard’s suicide weighed on Don,” said the novelist Evan Connell, recalling that Carpenter had envied Brautigan’s spectacular literary success, a success that eluded Carpenter even as it deserted Brautigan before he killed himself in a remote Marin County cabin.
Carpenter’s friend and Marin County neighbor, Anne LaMott, agreed. Noting that Brautigan’s body had not been found for weeks, she said Carpenter had been haunted “by the really chilling specter,” of Brautigan’s final isolation from his friends.
A native of San Francisco whose family moved to Portland, Ore., when he was a teenager, Carpenter went to high school there, graduated from Portland State University and eventually got a master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State.