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Kurt Vonnegut: A Critical Companion.
He writes about the most excruciatingly painful things. His novels have attacked our deepest fears of automation and the bomb, our deepest political guilts, our fiercest hatreds and loves. Nobody else writes books on these subjects; they are inaccessible to normal novelistic approaches. But Vonnegut, armed with his schizophrenia, takes an absurd, distorted, wildly funny framework which is ultimately anaesthetic. In doing so, his science fiction heritage is clear, but his purposes are very different: he is nearly always talking about the past, not the future. And as he proceeds, from his anaesthetic framework, to clean the shit off, we are able to cheer him on—at least for a while. But eventually we stop cheering, and stop laughing.
Slaughterhouse-Five, the character Kurt Vonnegut explains to Mary O’Hare, is intended to be an anti-war novel, and he says that it shall also be called The Children’s Crusade because of the effect it had on young men who fought in the war.
Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut.
This is not to say that he has been greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm by all critics. Reviews of his latest book, Slaughterhouse-Five, have dragged out the old complaints: Vonnegut is too cute, Vonnegut is precious, Vonnegut is silly.
Exhibit A: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. When I was growing up, everybody knew damn well what Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was. He was a science fiction writer. It said so, in the high school textbooks where his stories were reprinted. And what do you call Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan if not science fiction? Some years ago, he began to drift, but by then there was a new category, black humor, and Vonnegut got stuck into that one. The company was a little more reputable, but the category remained. He was doing God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Mother Night, and Cat’s Cradle. It seemed pretty blackly humorous, all right. And if he didn't have anything nasty to say about his mother, well, he'd get around to it. He was witty and he was grim, and that was enough.
The Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut.
There is every indication that this book represents, for Vonnegut, a final statement of his thoughts about this experience. He says so explicitly, just as he says the project is doomed to failure ("There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre"). The book also brings together characters and locales from other books—Howard W. Campbell, Jr., Eliot Rosewater, and Ilium, N.Y., giving the novel a faintly anthological flavor. The book is written in the brief segmental manner he developed in Cat's Cradle, organized as a collection of impressions, scattered in time and space, each told with the kind of economy one associates with poetry. It is beautifully done, fluid, smooth, and powerful.
A Vonnegut book is not cute or precious. It is literally awful, for Vonnegut is one of the few writers able to lift the lid of the garbage can, and dispassionately examine the contents. In Slaughterhouse-Five, the author quotes his father as saying, "You never wrote a story with a villain in it." This may be true, but Vonnegut never wrote a story with a hero in it, either. In Slaughterhouse-Five he also says, "Nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting," and it is within this framework that he writes about an event that should qualify for all those adjectives— the firebombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut experienced as a prisoner of war in Germany.
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And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life.
We live in an age of great seriousness. We are accustomed to getting our art in heavy, pretentious doses. Anything funny is suspect, and anything simple is doubly suspect. Here we come to the second difficulty with Kurt Vonnegut. His style is effortless, naive, almost childlike. There are no big words and no complicated sentences. It is an extraordinarily difficult style, but that fact is lost on anyone who has never tried to write that way.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Short Stories Questions and Answers
Short, Robert L. Something to Believe In: Is Kurt Vonnegut the Exorcist of Jesus Christ, Superstar? (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).
The Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel because Vonnegut, the character, says it is in the first chapter, because it depicts the terrible long-term effects the war has on Billy, and because it exposes war's devastating practices....
New Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut - Powell's Books
In honor of Banned Books Week, we'll be publishing our original reviews of frequently banned books. In 1969, a then relatively unknown Michael Crichton—who would go on to write some of the best-selling science fiction of all time—reviewed Kurt Vonnegut's latest novel, Slaughterhouse Five. In an ambivalent take, Crichton called it "hideous, ghastly, murderous—and calm."
Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut - Barnes & Noble
Mother Night, the clearest antecedent to Slaughterhouse-Five, begins by giving it to the Nazis. That's all right. Then Vonnegut gives it to the Jews, then the American right wing, then the left wing, then the Negroes, then the happily marrieds—and finally manages to reduce any social or political affiliation to total absurdity, while we look on with increasing horror. It is an astonishing book, very gentle and funny and quiet and totally destructive. Nobody escapes without being shown, in a polite way what an ass he is. (And interestingly, the left-wing political activists, who generally count Vonnegut among their number, all have somehow never found time to read this particular book.)
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