Friday, March 23, 2012

Book 11 of 52: The Vonnegut Statement

Old books make fantastic windows. The Vonnegut Statement, published in 1973, collects some of the first essays written about Kurt Vonnegut's works after the publication of Slaughterhouse Five. They seem to alternate between accessible and esoteric, but I found myself nodding along with the broad strokes of the criticism.

I often struggle to put a finger on what draws me to the authors whose body of work speaks to me. I have plenty of books I like by a range of authors, but the authors I like is a very exclusive list: Vonnegut is one, Hemingway and Steinbeck are two others, Philip Roth and Philip Larkin probably round out the top 5.

Over and over, the critics in The Vonnegut Statement return to the idea that as life has become more absurd, art is forced to take new forms. Part of the reason that Vonnegut's characters and scenes often feel like stick figure drawings when compared to the lush realism of Steinbeck or the terse depths of Hemingway is because the world makes so much less sense than it did twenty years before. Vonnegut survived the firebombing of Dresden, and while both Steinbeck and Hemingway came home with war stories and wrote stories about the war and people affected by war, only Vonnegut's characters were fully broken by war because war broke Vonnegut's ideals in a way it didn't affect the other authors.

Somewhere in the back of my head, I've known that.

Is this a book I'd recommend? Meh. You'd have to do a lot of reading, love Vonnegut and enjoy lit crit to make the journey worth it. But it was worth it for me.

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