Celebrating Vonnegut

Libraries are doing displays to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut’s death on Friday. The media celebrates his life in their own way, by critiquing the new collection of his unpublished works, Armageddon in Retrospect (Putnam) which was published on April 1 (you can’t help but think that Vonnegut would be amused by the pub date).

The coverage focuses on Vonnegut’s accounts of the bombing of Dresden. He later crafted that experience into Slaugthterhouse Five, feeling fiction was the only way he could adequately express his outrage over the unnecessary destruction of a once beautiful city. As the Village Voice puts it:

No matter how many times Vonnegut writes about Dresden, it never loses its power… “Wailing Shall Be in All Streets,” should be required reading for anyone considering starting a war. (We’re always told that each new conflict will be quicker, smarter, cleaner, but Vonnegut warns us that wars and weapons take on lives of their own.)

Treat yourself, and go to NPR to hear Rip Torn read from the piece, his gravely voice sounding like a slightly polished version of Vonnegut himself. The loving introduction to the book, written by his son Mark (author of The Eden Express), is also reprinted on the site.


David Ulin, LA Times Book Review editor finds the pieces a good glimpse at what Vonnegut would become, but unsatisfying in themselves.

His papers, at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, include more than 100 unpublished stories, as well as letters, scripts and other miscellany. That’s enough for dozens of volumes, but how much, really, do we want to read? Maybe it’s better to leave it all in the file boxes.

Indeed, Mark Vonnegut says in a Wall Street Journal interview that this will be the last collection

Seattle Times reviewer, David Takami, has a different take on the collection. He feels it “displays Vonnegut at his inimitable best: a blending of humor and trenchant social commentary implied through story and character” and that these early pieces are “largely devoid of [the] stylistic quirks” that tended to annoy Takami in some of Vonnegut’s published works.

With a completely different take, the Indianapolis Business Journal looks at the problems of estimating the future worth of Vonnegut’s works, so the estate can be divided among his beneficiaries. Not only must the lawyers consider future sales of Vonnegut’s works, they “must estimate the chance Vonnegut’s work will generate unexpected sources of income. Maybe there will be a sudden spike in demand for ‘Goodbye Blue Monday!’ T-shirts. Perhaps Pall Mall will want to roll out a Kilgore Trout cigarette advertising campaign.”

So it goes.

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