DEADEYE DICK by Kurt Vonnegut


A Novel
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Even Vonnegut's weaker myth/cartoon parables of 20th-century American life--Slapstick, Jailbird--have had a certain gravity and a strange shapeliness in their whimsical digressions, their near-childish interplay between silly plots and Big Themes- Here, however, though the Message circles around such weighty matters as Art and Disarmament, there's no majesty in the doodling, no sense of a pattern worth following to the end. Vonnegut's little-man protagonist this time is narrator Rudy Waltz, born in 1932 to millionaire Otto of Midland City, Ohio--a no-talent pharmaceuticals heir who fancies himself an artist (he studied in Vienna with beloved classmate Adolf Hitler), briefly promulgates Nazism in Ohio, and collects guns with passion. So Rudy grows up with a love and knowledge of firearms--till the day in 1944 when, at age twelve, he takes his beloved Springfield ("I liked it so much, and it liked me so much, since I had fired it so well that morning") up to the roof, shoots a bullet into the sky . . . and manages to kill a pregnant woman. Result? The family fortune is lost, father Otto goes to prison, the dead woman's husband is forgiving but writes an eloquent editorial. ("I give you a holy word: DISARM.") And the disarmament theme pops up, in nuclear form, elsewhere too: Rudy's mother will die from radiation poisoning, thanks to a mantelpiece made of radioactive cement from Oak Ridge; the whole town of Midland City will be depopulated by the "accidental" explosion of a neutron bomb in transit. ("My own guess is that the American government had to find out for certain whether the neutron bomb was as harmless as it was supposed to be. So it set one off in a small city which nobody cared about. . . .") But equal space is given to: asexual pharmacist Rudy's 1960 attempt at playwrighting in Greenwich Village; the doomed teenage love of his brother Felix (future NBC exec) for a wrong-side-of-the-tracks girl who later commits "suicide by Drano"; the evidence that Sir Galahad was Jewish; etc. And though Vonnegut's closing statement here--"We are still in the Dark Ages"--presumably can embrace all those fragments of story, character, and preachment, this is a sluggish potpourri of elbow-in-the-rib ironies . . . and perhaps Vonnegut's weakest fiction ever.
Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1982
ISBN: 0385334176
Page count: 253pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1982


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