TIMEQUAKE

Vonnegut's first "novel" in seven years (and 14th overall) might by an extremely generous extension of the term be labeled an unassuming metafiction. Actually, it's unequal parts commonplace book, fragmentary autobiography, dystopian romance, and bemused meditation on our planet's presumable determination to destroy itself. The premise goes as follows: In the year 2001, "a sudden glitch in the space-time continuum, made everybody and everything do exactly what they'd been doing during the past decade . . . a second time": i.e., 2001 reverted to 1991, and "free will kicked in again" only after said decade had torturously re-run itself. One yearns to know what Thomas Berger might have made of this idea. Vonnegut, essentially, settles for employing it as an excuse to rummage through his own past and that of his alter-ego, the fictional science fiction writer Kilgore Trout. Accordingly, the novel about this "timequake" becomes a free-form farrago in which the author tenderly salutes and mourns his living and dead siblings, wives, and children; pays tribute to favorite books and writers; retells old jokes; reminisces about his experiences in WW II, and about his experiences also as a later respected public figure (visiting Nigeria after the Biafran War; giving a speech on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima); and woolgathers—often cloyingly—about the fate of "humanism" in an age dominated by technology. The book severely tests a reader's patience when it's padded with random bits of semi-relevant information and needless explanations (the plot of The Scarlet Letter; the full text of the 23rd Psalm). And yet, Vonnegut's fitful summaries of the life and writings of the Hunter Thompson-like Kilgore Trout are often very funny (the story "The Sisters B-36," set on "the matriarchal planet Booboo," really ought to have been written). So, as he himself might say, it goes. "We are here on earth to fart around" runs one of Vonnegut's more endearing pronouncements. Nobody does it better.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 1997

ISBN: 0-399-13737-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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