Armageddon in Retrospect - So It Goes, Mr. Vonnegut

Any attempt at writing about Kurt Vonnegut is bound to fail miserably, something like trying to describe color to a blind man. When it comes to such a master craftsmen of prose the only recourse left to us is to humbly step aside and read what the man had to say. I am going to attempt to forge ahead, however, and provide you with a little insight into this new collection of previously unpublished letters and short stories from Mr. Vonnegut.

We start off with a touching introduction from his son Mark Vonnegut. We get to see some insight into the personal life of the author we all felt as if we knew so well. The tone is set, and like some of Vonnegut's better works it is primarily focused on the depression that is war.

The bulk of the book consists of previously unpublished short stories spanning his early years from the 1940s and 1950s when he was still developing his characteristic voice. Literature lovers will appreciate the obvious progression and great strides Kurt makes from his earlier pieces to his trademark style. History buffs will respect such vivid and well-written personal accounts of the second World War, including the Dresden bombing which Vonnegut will later flesh out in his landmark Slaughterhouse-Five.

One of the most interesting pieces in here is an actual facsimile that Kurt sent to his family while at a POW re-patriation camp in France in May of 1945. The vivid horror of surviving the Dresden bombing, the blunt remarks on the absurdity of war, and his humor shine through. In classic Vonnegut style he remarks on how others were killed in another bombing, "but not me."

"But not me." Even in what was the infancy of his writing days he has the power to capture so much in so few words. "But not me," which would later give way to "so it goes" and other vintage Vonnegut sayings, hits home in the three-page letter and reminds us all that what we need most in dealing with our current war is such a clear voice.

The incredible thing about this letter is that it was written while everything was still fresh, and some of it still happening. Slaughterhouse-Five is perhaps one of the greatest war stories ever told, yet it was written 23 years later, at a time when Vonnegut himself says he was finally "grown up enough to write about the bombing of Dresden."

The short stories range across typical Vonnegut topics such as time travel, a satirical Paradise Lost tale, and if it is even at all possible to have peace in the world.

Another gem from this collection is Kurt's final speech, read by his son Mark upon his death last April. Kurt was supposed to give the speech himself but died two weeks before the scheduled date in Indianapolis. All we can do is read this now and in our minds imagine the classic delivery that punctuated all of Kurt's talks. Sombre, hilarious, and full of absolute humility.

Some of the better examples are how we should be "unusually kind to one another" during the Apocalypse, and how jazz is "safe sex of the highest order." It ends with the line, "I thank you for your attention and I'm outta here." For lack of a better way to wrap this up, and to quote one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, I thank you for your attention and I'm outta here.

Comments 2 comments

Cassie 8 years ago

We miss you Kurt! Good review. You may have given a blind person a fleeting glimpse at color after all. :)


susan 8 years ago

sounds like a great tribute to a great writer!

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