A Review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters

The Core presents a review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Letters, by Keith Miller. Vonnegut is not a writer directly studied in Core classes, however, his influence on the literary world is worth examining. Here is an excerpt:

Most of Vonnegut’s early writing is – despite his protestations about “genre-ism” – fairly easy to ghettoise as science fiction, though he is manifestly a “hard” SF writer (space ships, tentacles) who would like to be a “soft” one, exploring the Philip K Dick stuff about memory and identity. One of his richest themes – very notably in Slaughterhouse 5, which contains elements of SF, as well as memoir, realism and several other notes – is the conceit that we’re all somehow adrift, rogue cosmonauts in our own lives, an idea that is by no means confined to genre fiction (it is present in Proust, though clad there in white tie rather than a space suit).

The writ of this collection of letters runs from about 1950 until 2007, the year of Vonnegut’s death. It is not exactly packed with revelations. We don’t write to those we see every day; anthologies such as these are documents of absence, plaster casts of empty rooms – involuted autobiographies. It’s only when Kurt, teaching in Iowa, steps up his correspondence with Jane, his first wife, that we sense their relationship is amiss – sure enough, he soon notifies a friend that “something telepathic has busted between us”.

It is for their literary rather than their documentary value that these letters commend themselves, in the end. They have a directness and a consistency, a scruffy but ensnaring humanity, that I’ve never quite been able to find in Vonnegut’s fiction, either two decades ago as a refusenaut and psychonik, or over the past fortnight, researching this piece. Kurt seems by turns kind, engaged, imaginative, witty, self-deprecating (“I write with a big black crayon… grasped in a grubby, kindergarten fist,”) and – on various fronts – courageous.

For the full review, visit bit.ly/101d1Wt.

Post a Comment

Your email address is never shared. Required fields are marked *