I was expecting more. The follow-up to Kurt Vonnegut’s breakout novel Slaughterhouse 5 reads more like a Target Doctor Who novel from the 70’s-80’s, by which I mean it’s an easy read. IF of course a Doctor Who novel covered such topics as wide-open beavers and crazy used-car salesmen with bad chemicals. ‘Bad chemicals’ would be Vonnegut’s meme fir mental illness. I’ve heard some doctors refer to depression as an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry. I’m not sure if Vonnegut had been ahead of his time or simply being a smartass.
Curiously the author had also chosen to fill his book with his own simple illustrations, including ducks, ‘beavers’ and assholes. I had a feeling there’d be a lot of Fourth Walls breaking since the author, despite all the conventions of written storytelling, frequently takes the opportunity to personally intrude on the narrative. The plot revolves around the unhappy meeting of Kilgore Trout, a frequent cameo character in Vonnegut novels, and Dwayne Hoover, the crazy used care salesman in question. The mayhem takes place at the Midland City Festival of the Arts in 1972 in the American Midwest. He also drops in references to other past characters like Eliot Rosewater, the hero of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
African Americans are not portrayed in a flattering way. I’m not comfortable with that or his frequent use of the ‘N’ Word. At first I thought it might be an attempt at making we the readers uncomfortable, in the same vein as Mel Brooks would in Blazing Saddles. If so it’s a rank failure. In Vonnegut’s hands it’s unnecessarily gratuitous.
This is probably not his best work but it has its amusements. We have the truck driver whose brother works in a factory making napalm for dropping on Vietnam. His truck is also dumping poison gas into the atmosphere and that the planet is turning into pavement so his truck can deliver 78,000 pounds of olives to Tulsa. Observing all this, the nameless driver says, “Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way.” Another cutaway remark is how one of the most expensive things a person could do in this country was for a guy to get sick. Some things never change….
In fact the relevance to current events never seems to end, as with the destruction of the countryside in West Virginia in the name and authority of the Rosewater Coal and Iron Company. Let’s have one last reference: “Trout couldn’t tell one politician from another one. They were all formlessly enthusiastic chimpanzees to him” [Chapter 10, page 88]. To be honest, I find this an insult to chimpanzees.
[Kurt Vonnegut, c. 1973 for the Playboy interview]