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Thu May 1, 2014
Book Review: Kurt Vonnegut: Novels 1976-1985
Listen: One of my writing heroes is Kurt Vonnegut and for four years I had his home phone number sitting on my desk. That blessed number was a present from a friend of mine and every day it taunted me, teased me. When Vonnegut died in 2007, I threw the number away. I never had the guts to call it. So it goes.
The Library of America has been republishing Vonnegut’s complete fiction library in hardcover. This May, volume three, "Novels 1976-1985", will be released and it includes what I would consider four lost classics by this master American novelist. If you only know Vonnegut from “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle,” and “Breakfast of Champions,” consider your summer reading list planned.
In his memoir “Palm Sunday,” Vonnegut graded his novels and he gave the first book in the collection, “Slapstick,” a D. Mr. Vonnegut, I think that is unfair. In fact, this is one of Vonnegut’s most imaginative tales. “Slapstick” is the story of Dr. Wilbur Daffodill-11 Swain, the last President of the United States. The campaign slogan that got him elected was “Lonesome no more!” He has a twin sister, and when they are together they form a super intelligence.
While “Slapstick” is mad and outlandish, “Jailbird,” the next book, is almost subdued and in our reality. This novel tells the story of Walter F. Starbuck, who was the only person to go to jail for the Watergate scandal.
“Deadeye Dick,” the next novel, follows the life of Rudy Waltz. He is living with the guilt of a murder. As a child, Rudy shot a gun out of his window, accidentally killing a woman in another house. It is probably the most tragic of the works in this collection
The fourth and final book is a true gem. “Galapagos” is the story of the evolution of mankind, or the devolution of it, depending on your perspective. The story is told by a ghost who watches these descendants of man for over a million years, waiting for the chance to enter a blue tunnel and go to the afterlife.
It’s now been more than seven years since Vonnegut has become unstuck in our time. Sadly, I have little left to discover around one of my favorite writers, but thanks to the Library of America they make it easier for everyone else. Honestly, I’m a little jealous of those who haven’t read these works yet.
Oh, and finally, why didn’t I call Vonnegut? I’m sure he would’ve been nice to me, but I would have been the awkward stalking fan. It would have been a short call. I have no delusions of us being up all night talking on the phone until the birds started chirping: Poo-tee-weet.
Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels “A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.
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