VONNEGUT IN AMERICA by Jerome & Donald L. Lawler Klinkowitz


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So what gives with this Vonnegut? Once a sci fi man always one? A true satirist? Ruminations swirl and thicken in this study designed, state its editors, to ""help establish the context of a more serious but, we hope, not necessarily more solemn dialogue on Vonnegut the [meaning the] American writer of the sixties and seventies."" Whether that writer or this collection of essays exactly merits these respective billings is not that important. Vonnegut obviously comes close enough to enfranchise most types of discussion and, if occasional professorial miasma isn't taken for solemnity, Messrs. Klinkowitz, Lawler, and their fellow contributors hold up their end respectably, as well. Klinkowitz provides a good biography and bibliography, and a valuable guide to the most representative of the early magazine stories. Co-editor Lawler uses The Sirens of Titan to explore space opera as the enabling form for Vonnegut's supposed surrealism and shaggy-dog brand of comedy: the calculated letdown. (Even the sirens, Lawler reminds ns, were slabs of Titanic peat carved by a bored robot.) Whatever their viewpoints, other contributions make interesting if sometimes foggy going: Willis McNelly on Vonnegut as sci fi practitioner and/or mainstream writer; William Veeder's comparison of Lolita and Mother Night in order to examine ""technique as recovery,"" or, as Veeder puts it, how formal innovations in both works ""help the reader recover his best self by recovering his bond with all mankind,"" right on down to rapist and anti-Semite; Conrad Festa on Vonnegut as satirist; Peter Reed on the familial longings and other aspects of the late works; and Donald Fiene's piece on Vonnegut's extraordinary popularity in the Soviet Union. A panel discussion echoes the essays but makes fresh points, among them the observation that to get a handle on the slippery Mr. V., it might behoove us to invent a new language. So it goes.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Delacorte