The novelist Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at age 84. Back in the day when I took my lessons in political thought from John Lennon, Kurt Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers. I read every one of the novels he had published through 1970, beginning with Player Piano, continuing with The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and Mother Night, and culminating in Slaughterhouse-Five. The man met the moment with Slauhghterhouse-Five in 1969 and Vonnegut became a countercultural celebrity without any discernible discomfort. Indeed, he encouraged acolytes like me in our fatuity, our grandiosity, our irresponsibility.
From an adult perspective, one can see that the novels are full of cheap irony, insufferable sentimentality, paper thin characters, and forgettable plots. If Vonnegut’s novels have made it into the high school curriculum, as Dinitia Smith states in today’s New York Times obituary, pity the poor high school student who thinks that this is what literature is all about.
Just before Vonnegut became a celebrity he collected his shorter fiction in Welcome to the Monkey House. Vonnegut included his early dystopian story “Harrison Bergeron” in the collection. In it he envisioned a nightmare future in which “everyone was finally equal.” It’s a story that runs against the grain of the kind of leftist political orthodoxy that Vonnegut came to embody. RIP.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill