I haven’t read a book quite this fast in a long while, and I was barely trying. Published in our fair nation’s Bicentennial year, we have the story of twins separated by their judgmental parents, and a granddaughter the brother twin comes to care for. Family is the core virtue of this satire, even to the point of ludicrousness. Don’t expect it to be an endorsement of what we laughably call ‘family values’. Our protagonist is essentially a modern Neanderthal who with the help of his sister Eliza becomes by turns a genius, an idiot, a pediatrician, the last President of the United States and the King of Manhattan after a flu and the Green Death destroys civilization as we know it.
A means is also discovered to contact the Afterlife which turns out to be as boring as nails, so much so that it’s referred to as a ‘Turkey Shoot’. The biggest religion at the end of the world is the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped. The insinuation that the Chinese are shrinking in stature may have been written in jest but by today’s standards or any other, it might be considered racist. The style is breezy and pure Vonnegut, sparing in detail and broadly farciful with even the most tragic of events. A step up from Breakfast of Champions.
Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,…Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn’t stand it, he could march over his uncle’s for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren’t relatives. There aren’t other houses where people can go and be cared for.
–Vonnegut interview extract, Todd F. Davis (January 2008). Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade; Or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism. SUNY Press. pp. 95–97. ISBN 978-0-7914-6676-6. Retrieved 13 July 2011^
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.
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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]