Very brief essays, displaying the indignant humanism, pacifism and generosity of spirit that made Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five a touchstone of the Vietnam War era.
Whether called essays, stories or “an autobiographical collage,” this illustrated collection reflects the author’s alarm and disgust at what he regards as the subversion of the democratic process by, and the manipulative deceptions of, the current presidential administration. He also denounces the corrupt profiteering of its cronies. As a polemicist, Vonnegut is unsubtle but often funny, as when he blames the unhappiness of the modern individual on the decline of the extended family, observing, “A few Americans, but very few, still have extended families. The Navahoes. The Kennedys.” Occasionally, he is shrewd, as when he remarks that while “the most vocal Christians” want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere, no one is clamoring to put up The Beatitudes (Blessed are the meek . . . the peacemakers . . .) in courthouses. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of chaff that must be sifted away. In “Here is a lesson in creative writing,” there is a slapdash reading of Hamlet, in which Vonnegut asserts of Polonius, “Shakespeare regards him as a fool and disposable.” Vonnegut is at his best when he simply tells us about his enthusiasms: for socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs; for the 19th-century Viennese obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis, whose work saved the lives of countless mothers and infants; and for Abraham Lincoln. Vonnegut cites a speech Lincoln made while still a member of the House, denouncing the opportunism of then-president Polk in embarking on the Mexican war. “Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory—that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood—that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy—he plunged into war.”
An invitation to survey our current circumstances as a nation.