Ursus Pugilisticus
[for Harry in Portland]
Imus in Wonder Land

Vonnegut Turn Deserves Another

In 1969, 60 cents would buy you a paperback edition of a book that Graham Greene declared, presumably when it was first published in 1963, to be "one of the three best novels of the year by one of the most able living authors."  The publisher's description on the back cover promised:

[The author], one of the most daring and irreverent of the new breed of writers called 'The Black Humorists,' has here concocted a delicious and irresistible fantasy about the end of the world -- replete with atomic scientists, ugly Americans, gorgeous Sex Queens, undertakers, God, Caribbean dictators, stenographers and a brand new method of making love.

One day in 1969, in the book section of a J. L. Hudson store in the suburbs of Detroit, one 13-year old boy was sufficiently intrigued -- although he had never before heard of the author and, I am reasonably certain, knew nothing as yet of Graham Greene or of co-blurber Terry Southern or of a book called Catch-22 to which this one was favorably compared -- that he bought it and read it and liked it a lot.  And the boy grew up and started a weblog, but he kept that book with him through the years, and here it is:

Cats_cradle

I admit it, I haven't read a new Vonnegut novel since the very disappointing Slapstick in 1976, but after picking up Cat's Cradle I as hooked.  Over the next two years, I tracked down whatever else of Vonnegut I could find, working backward to Player Piano and Sirens of Titan and Mr. Rosewater and Mother Night and the stories in Welcome to the Monkey House, and concluding with the then-new Dell paperback edition of Slaughterhouse-Five.  I was glued to my set in 1972 when NET [for you young people, that's the predecessor network to PBS] broadcast Between Time and Timbuktu, in which astronaut Stony Stevenson [William Hickey] was dispatched through the chronosynclastic infundibulum and found himself in a kaleidoscopic mashup of situations from previous Vonnegut books, and I snapped up a copy of Vonnegut's script as soon as I could.  (I would be grateful to anyone who brought about the rerelease of that program on DVD, as I recall it with great affection.) 

I still have that script, and my '69-'71 vintage copies of Sirens and Monkey House and Slaughterhouse and, as noted above, Cat's Cradle, and although it has been decades since I read him with any regularity, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., remains a fundamental influence on me.  Moreso than any other writer, he catalyzed my abiding fondness for satire and crystallized a healthy skepticism toward humankind and its follies in general, and toward the powerful and self-important in particular.  Vonnegut's writing was built on clarity and on  keeping each sentence as simple as it could be while still doing its job.  In the battle of clean and spartan prose I'd take Vonnegut over Hemingway any day of the week. 

So allow me please to join the chorus of praise for the late and admirable Kurt Vonnegut.  So long, and thanks for all the foma.

INCIDENTALS:

  • Vonnegut's passing may well breed a resurgent interest in Bokononism; prepare, friends, by studying The Books of Bokonon complete.
  • Kurt Vonnegut inspired one of the better "summarize the book songs" I know:

More Vonnegut-inspired music is referenced here and here.  I previously mentioned Vonnegut in connection with the band name of Sweet Billy Pilgrim.

Comments

janet

slapstick is not disappointing! it contains rich and hilarious language.

janet

slapstick is not disappointing! it contains rich and hilarious language.

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