Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Player Piano - 1952

The Sirens of Titan - 1959

Mother Night - 1961

Cat's Cradle - 1963

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - 1965

Slaughterhouse-Five - 1969

Breakfast of Champions - 1973

Slapstick - 1976

Jailbird - 1979

Deadeye Dick - 1982

Galapagos - 1985

Bluebeard - 1987

Hocus Pocus - 1990

Timequake - 1997

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian - Seven Stories Press & Washington Square Press - (1999, 2001) - 79 pages

Kurt Vonnegut was a humanist.  My definition of humanist is "nice atheist."  He was also the honorary president of American Humanist Association.  He had replaced Isaac Asimov in that position in 1982.  For a while before writing this book, Vonnegut recorded the contents of this book in episodes for NPR on WNYC.  These 21 episodes are imagined as interviews of dead people with the assistance of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.  Vonnegut asks each of these subjects to comment about death: Dr. Mary Ainsworth, Salvatore Biagini, Birnum Birnum, John Brown, Gorsuch Burke, Clarence Darrow, Eugene Debs, Harold Epstein, Vivian Halliman, Adolf Hitler, John Wesley Jones, Frances Keane, Sir Isaac Newton, Peter Pellegrino, James Earl Ray, William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Dr. Philip Strax, Karla Faye Tucker, Kilgore Trout and Isaac Asimov.  [JAM 1/21/2020]

Look at the Birdie (Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007) - Delacorte Press - 2009 - 251 pages

This is a collection of 14 previously unpublished short stories issued two years after his death and without the "Jr." after his name.

Confido - This is a story about a man who invents a box that communicates with whomever is plugged into it.  The box is supposed to be a friendly companion but seems to provide mostly negative thoughts.  The story ends abruptly with the box warning the inventor about some unspecified future.  I think that Mr. Vonnegut would have been saddened to see this story in print as is.  It appears that he had reached a dead end with it or had not liked where the story was going.  It is possible that the Vonnegut heirs found Confido crumpled in a ball in a trash receptacle where it belonged. [JAM 11/25/2009]

FUBAR - I liked this story.  I can identify with the protagonist, Fuzz Littler stuck in a dull job until an optimistic young woman appears to make it all better.  This is true Vonnegut stuff.  I just wonder why it was not published until after his death. [JAM 11/26/2009]

Shout About It From the Rooftops - The aluminum storm window salesman is the only person in this Vermont town who does not know the rich and famous but unhappy Morgan couple.  She wrote a book and he did not like it.  This is another story that could have stayed in the circular file. [JAM 11/28/2009]

Ed Luby's Key Club - This is a rather depressing story about an ex-Mafia thug who owns a small town in middle town.  The story moves along well but seems to be rushed at the end.  It appears that this one was written during Vonnegut's "magazine phase" before he found success with his novels.  My guess is that there was more than one rejection notice associated with the story. [JAM 11/29/2009]

A Song For Selma - This is a rather confusing story about intelligence and what makes a person a genius.  The ending is very strange.  This seems like an unfinished story that was finished by someone other than Vonnegut.  I could be wrong. [JAM 11/30/2009]

Hall of Mirrors - This story is about a hypnotist, some mirrors and some missing people.  I am not sure what the point of it all is.  It may have been another unfinished story with a quick ending.  And by the way, Los Angeles is not on a navigable waterway and it is larger than Indianapolis. [JAM 12/1/2009]

The Nice Little People - This is the first story in the collection that displays Kurt Vonnegut's flair for science fiction.  An ordinary man (Lowell Swift) finds a tiny spaceship shaped like a knife.  The knife is eventually used as an accidental weapon.  The ending raises more questions than it answers.  What is going to happen to the little people?  Is Lowell guilty of a crime?  What will happen when the weapon is examined by investigators?  [JAM 12/2/2009] 

Hello, Red - Red Mayo and his daughter, Nancy have red hair.  And your point is? [JAM 12/3/2009]

Little Drops of Water - Larry is the confirmed bachelor who cannot fit a committed relationship into his busy life.  However, Ellen refuses to quit and eventually traps her based.  Methinks that both are losers. [JAM 12/4/2009]

The Petrified Ants - In Communist Russia, two brothers are summoned to examined some ancient petrified ant colonies.  Both happened to be myrmecologists (ant experts) which are apparently common occupations in the country.  The brothers discovered that ancient ants were intelligent with books, music and framed art hanging on the walls of their cottages.  Some of them probably smoked pipes and belonged to the country club.  As time passed, the brothers discovered that the intelligent ants slowly disappeared as more militant ants invaded the colonies.  In other words, communism destroys civilized societies.  Too bad it was a short story.  I assume that the brothers also discovered tiny fast food restaurants and bowling alleys. [JAM 12/5/2009]

The Honor of a Newsboy - This is a murder mystery with some circumstantial evidence based on one missing newspaper.  This is another story that ended suddenly.  The copyright page claims that stories have been "edited only minimally from the originals."  Interpretation: many of these stories had no endings. [JAM 12/6/2009]

Look at the Birdie - The crazy man and his wife have created the perfect crime.  Has the protagonist of this story ever heard about law enforcement?  The moral of this story: stay away from sleazy bars. [JAM 12/7/2009]

King and Queen of the Universe - In the middle of the Great Depression, a young couple from wealthy families meet an unemployed, bedraggled industrial chemist in the park after midnight and decide to go with him so he can show some rich people to his mother.  Everything was going well until the police broke down the door.

The Good Explainer - So, a married couple drives from Ohio to Chicago, Illinois to see a particular doctor and they make separate appointments?  I'm not buying it.  What, did they drive separate cars from Ohio?  Peter is rather naive and his wife is rather psychotic.  The doctor did nothing wrong.  Leave him alone!

True Vonnegut fans will enjoy this journey back to the days before he became famous.  The Vonnegut style is evident.  However, I think that he would be mortified if he knew that these were to be published after his death.  I believe that these stories needed a lot of work before publication.  [JAM 12/9/2009]

 

While Mortals Sleep - Delacorte Press - 2011 - 253 pages

This is a volume of 16 unpublished short stories that were released after Kurt Vonnegut's death.

Jenny - This is the story about a brilliant scientist who goes to work for an appliance manufacturer and develops a refrigerator that talks and acts like his beautiful young wife.  The man becomes so involved with his invention that he leaves his wife and takes the refrigerator (Jenny) on the road, becoming the company's best sales person traveling from store to store across the country for 30 years.  Then, something happens to change his life forever.  [JAM 1/21/2020]

The Epizootic - There is an epidemic in the life insurance business.  Young men with families are committing suicide at an average age of 47.  [JAM 1/22/2020]

Hundred-Dollar Kisses - Henry hit co-worker Verne on the head with his telephone.  But, he had a good reason.  [JAM 1/23/2020]

Guardian of the Person - A man gets married on his 21st birthday and goes to a bar to introduce his wife to his alcoholic guardian who has not had a drink in eight years.  And, that's it.  End of story.  This appears to be a short story that was never finished by Vonnegut.  [JAM 1/24/2020]

With His Hand on the Throttle - Earl likes to play with model trains - too much. [JAM 1/25/2020]

Girl Pool - Vonnegut wrote this story back in the days of typewriters and Dictaphones.  The story is about a large company that has 60 women in a typing pool to produce typed documents for anyone within the company who had access to a Dictaphone.  It happened one day that an injured bank robber with a gun was hiding on the company grounds.  Everybody knew he was on the grounds but the authorities were apparently not planning to look for him until after working hours.  Now for some coincidences.  One girl in the typing pool is in love with the bank robber because he looks handsome in a photo.  The bank robber somehow gets access to a company Dictaphone, records a message and somehow gets it sent to the typing pool.  And, guess who got the recording as a typing assignment?  It is a fairly unlikely situation so it is not surprising that this story did not sell.  What is surprising is that Vonnegut did not wad it up and throw it in his trashcan.  [JAM 1/26/2020]

Ruth - After losing her young husband, a pregnant woman travels to meet her mother-in-law.  They do not get along well.  But, as the young woman is getting ready to get on a train, she realizes something very important.  [JAM 1/27/2020]

While Mortals Sleep - This is the story about a city's Christmas decoration contest and a newspaper editor who hates that kind of stuff.  [JAM 1/28/2020]

Out, Brief Candle - This is a story about pen pals and "buyer beware." [JAM 1/30/2020]

Tango - In a place named Pisquontuit (pronounced "piss-on-it"), the worst thing your can do is dance the tango with the hired help.  But, one resident is defiant.  [JAM 1/31/2020]

Bomar - Three employees play a prank on Nancy or did they.  [JAM 2/1/2020]

The Man With No Kiddleys -  Two old guys compare internal organ inventory.  [JAM 2/1/2020]

Mr. Z - Love is where (and how) you find it.  [JAM 2/1/2020]

$10,000 a Year, Easy - In this life, some of us can become famous; and some of can achieve our biggest goal.  But, most of work hard to make a good living.  [JAM 2/1/2020]

Money Talks - Two lonely people meet in the middle of the night on Cape Cod.  One has recently become very rich while the other is bankrupt.  As they interact, the money talks.  [JAM 2/2/2020]

The Humbug - Art is in the eye of the beholder. [JAM 2/2/2020]

 

We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First And Last Works (Kurt Vonnegut) - Vanguard Press - 2012 - 161 pages

If you are a famous author and have some unpublished or unfinished works, burn them.  Otherwise, your surviving relatives will publish them to make some bucks.  This posthumous volume consists of two novellas.  The first novella (Basic Training) written circa 1946 is actually very good albeit somewhat short of the expected Vonnegut wit and wisdom.  The story is mostly autobiographical covering some time he spent living and working with cousins ruled by "The General" who was the strict family dictator.  The story is somewhat depressing but the ending is excellent although probably total fiction.  The second novella (If God Were Alive Today) is a disaster because it is disjointed, unfinished and was probably destined for the shredder.  The six chapters were supposedly a work-in-process at the time of Vonnegut's death in 2007.  The pages outline the personality of a neurotic but successful comedian and self-proclaimed neuter.  As most of the short stories in Look At The Birdie, this one should have remained unpublished.  The Vonnegut style is evident but I did not find one quote that I would like to reproduce here.  I am certain that Vonnegut would not have wanted these 70 pages "in print for the first time."  The foreword by daughter, Nanette is enjoyable to read.  [JAM 1/30/2013]

Sucker's Portfolio - Amazon Publishing - 2012 - 178 pages

This is another collection of unsold fiction published after Vonnegut's death.  However, the hidden gem is "The Last Tasmanian" - a nonfiction essay written in 1992.  The seven episodes and one appendix in Sucker's Portfolio are as follows:

Between Timid and Timbuktu - A painter, who has just lost his wife, saves an old farmer from drowning with the help of a local doctor.  He later learns that the farmer actually went back in time during his near-death experience.  The painter decides to try to duplicate the farmer's experience on himself so that he can visit his wife one more time.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

Rome - This is a story about a young woman who was a terrible actor but she agreed to act in a play.  The rehearsals were terrible but then something happened.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

Eden by the River  - A young woman and an awkward teenage boy take a walk in the woods.  They do not seem to be compatible at all until a simple fact is revealed.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

Sucker's Portfolio - An investment expert is confused by the odd financial decisions of a client who recently inherited a large sum of money.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

Miss Snow, You're Fired - A beautiful woman is hired by the General Forge & Foundry Company.  She gets special treatment because of her beauty and not because of her competence.  Two men in the company have a dispute about Miss Snow and then they go separate ways.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

Paris, France - Three old couples travel to France.  Nobody knows why.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

The Last Tasmanian - In his later years, Vonnegut mostly wrote non-fiction.  In fact, he published only one novel (Timequake) after 1990.  The essays in this book (from 1992) were unknown until five years after his death.  Following are some of those brain droppings.  [JAM 2/29/2020]

"Why did it go on for so long?  Who couldn't have found half a planet as small and navigable as this one is?"

"... I wrote an essay ... about how inhospitable the moons and asteroids and other planets in the solar system were, so that we would be wise to quit treating this planet as though ... there were plenty of spares out there."

"... most United States citizens ... have been given by their teachers a spine of dates to memorize ... But making a spine for history out of memorized dates has the side effect of teaching that human destiny is governed by sudden and explosive events ..."

"... the reasonable way to think about Columbus and his toy armada ... is that he was part of a system that was bound to hit the outlying islands of the Western Hemisphere ... in 1492, give or take ... thirty years."

"Tomorrow morning, some absolute nobody ... might fall into an open manhole and return to street level with a concussion and a cancer cure."

"If I had been born in Germany instead of Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1922, I would almost certainly have been a corpse on the Russian Front."

"... I have to wonder if obedience isn't the basic flaw in most of humankind."

"So the wake of North American TV is something like the wake of a bulldozer, in which everything has been made nice and neat, dead level and lifeless and featureless."

"As long as the poor people in this country kill each other ... the federal government, obviously, in content to regard them, as Columbus might have done, as a well-regulated militia."

"When a land bridge finally married the two land masses [North and South America], we got some of their unique animals, and they got some of ours.  They got our raccoons and we got their opossums, the only marsupials in the whole New World, incidentally, the worst possible news for garbage cans from Tierra del Fuego to Hudson Bay."

"As a lifelong Indian lover, I am shocked when I meet white people who live near a lot of Indians and have nothing but contempt for them.  They are not numerous, and in my experience have almost all been members of our overtly white-supremacist and social-Darwinist political party, the party of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the Republicans."

"We are incorrigibly the nastiest of all animals, as our history attests, and that is that."

Robotville and Mr. Caslow - The final article (appendix) in this book is "an unfinished science-fiction short story."  Amazon will publish anything.  [JAM 2/29/2020]