Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died April 11. He was 84.
So it goes.
I know lately I've been chronicling the deeds of the dead on this blog and I don't want it to be morbid. I just marvel at their lives and their accomplishments. Death is extremely weird. It grounds the living, makes them view their lives differently and gives them a purpose to strive. It reminds everyone they're on borrowed time.
As a teenager, I discovereed Vonnegut after reading Slaughterhouse Five. I was so blown away by his style, his breezy and somewhat prechy worldview and his propensity for kindness in the face of evil and stupidity. Man must be kind to each other. Wow. What a concept.
Vonnegut was an anomaly in fiction. Was he writing science fiction, social commentary, tragedy, comedy or a little of everything? One summer, I remember vacationing at the Jersey shore and going into a dinky little bookshop and purchasing at least one Vonnegut paperback a week. I devoured his works that summer: Welcome to the Monkeyhouse, Mother Night, Slapstick, Bluebeard, Galapagos, Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Jailbird, Palm Sunday and others. He was a master at writing, at surrealism and at carving out and sharing the dark areas of his life.
But despite his personal tragedies, Vonnegut's writing always strived for the better. He used the absurd to illustrate truths. He appeared in Rodney Dangerfield's movie "Back to School" making a brief walk-on cameo as himself, which I thought was cool.
When I was in college, I read Hocus Pocus and decided to write to him. I found the address of his publisher or agent (I forget which now) and wrote a gushing letter that I admired his work and I was a young writer, etc. I never got a reply, but I felt good sending him a letter. Whether he got it is highly improbable, but at least I tried communicating.
I could wax poetic about the burly Midwesterner, the bard of satire and surrealism. I could talk all day about Kilgore Trout, Billy Pilgrim, Wanda June, Montana Wildhack and the weird asterisk-shaped illustrations meant to be assholes. Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers and influenced me during my late teens and early twenties.
Good night, Mr. Vonnegut.

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