Thursday, April 12, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922 – 2007
What sad news that Kurt Vonnegut died this week. He was truly one of the great American writers, often likened to Mark Twain - a brilliant humorist with a dark soul. He was a huge inspiration for me for a number of reasons. His easy-going, conversational style of prose came off as so relaxed, so off-handed, that it made me feel as if I could be a writer as well. Not that I am yet - obviously I’m still working on it - but his work sort of gave me permission to write things the way I felt they should be written.
Reading his novels also helped me make the transition between a steady diet of Science Fiction (almost to the exclusion of all other forms of fiction) into the world of More Serious Literature. I loved Cat’s Cradle for its sci-fi elements, but it also heightened my awareness of the absurdity of religion and the buffoonery of politics. Slapstick only further cemented my awe of his skills as a social satirist and even as a cultural surrealist, with its vivid imagery of a New York City in decay and miniaturized Chinese.
Even though his books had a deep cynicism, even fatalism at their core, they were always leavened with a hilarious absurdity. Breakfast of Champions, a tale of varying levels of failure and madness, was also wonderfully funny – it occurred to me at one point as I was rereading it a few years ago that the audio book would work well if narrated by Eeyore.
It’s a consolation of his passing that the news may spur people who’ve never read any of his great body of work to try one or two. For me, the melancholy is mixed with pleasant memories, causing me to dust off and reread the works of his I love the most, and expand to a few of the works I haven’t yet enjoyed.