Thursday, April 12, 2007


Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

As with many, my experience with reading Kurt Vonnegut started with his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five. Often, when a book and/or author has an almost mythic reputation, starting with their most famous book can disappoint. Slaughterhouse-Five, with its flights of fancy spun intricately with horror and heartbreak did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I never got around to reading as much of his work as I wanted to.

I also read Deadeye Dick, which I actually bought before Slaughterhouse-Five, but didn't read until after. In 10th grade, the description of the story of Deadeye Dick lured me to its purchase as at the time I was writing a similarly (in terms of story, not style or talent) absurd novel. The book jacket read:
"In the euphoria of colossal innocence, he shot a bullet in the air. By the time it fell to earth, twelve-year-old Rudy Waltz was condemned as a double murderer, committed to care his ruined parents — his mother, whose ultimate fate rested on a radioactive mantelpiece, and his father who — in his salad days — had found his best and only friend in a hapless young art student, Adolf Hitler. It was an odd beginning, if not an auspicious one. What can you expect when you're born in an Ohio City destined to be depopulated by a "friendly" neutron bomb?"

The novel didn't live up to the description, but it was still good. Another of his books that I loved was Cat's Cradle, one of the quickest reads I ever had thanks to its insanely short chapters, but it was a meaningful read.

I also enjoyed a mostly forgotten 1995 made-for-Showtime movie based on a Vonnegut story called Harrison Bergeron, a futuristic satire about a man who is smarter than everyone else, something that isn't allowed as the entire society has been purposely dumbed down in the names of "equality" and television ratings.

Of course, he also made a memorable cameo as himself in Back to School, helping Rodney Dangerfield's millionaire college student write a paper on Kurt Vonnegut — and he still got a less-than-stellar grade, an absurdity right up Vonnegut's alley.

I also found a bit of a kinship with him when I learned that he and I were both born in Indianapolis, albeit decades apart. In his later years, he turned into a wonderful misanthrope, outraged by what had become of his country under the current administration.

However, it always will be Slaughter-House Five for which he will be remembered, inspired by his personal experience witnessing the horrors of the World War II bombing of Dresden, Germany. Now though, Vonnegut has left us physically, but his works will live forever. The cause of death, according to an obit, were brain injuries he suffered in a fall a few weeks ago. So it goes.

Labels: , , , ,

What a loss. My favorite was Breakfast of Champions--"Make me young. Make me young." But generally I just liked the guy--his politics, his humanity, and his wonderful sense of humor, e.g., advising grad students to floss and wear sun screen when he did their commencement speech. I loved that.
I forgot one other great quote of his that I loved that he gave when speaking: "My advice to young writers — don't use semicolons. They're only used to show you've been to college."
I'm devastated - I was sure he had at least one more great novel in him.

And do read Breakfast of Champions. It's one of the great American novels of the century.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader