I’m a bit late with this – blame all the tax and travel planning – but I was sad to see the news that Kurt Vonnegut passed away Wednesday.
I make no claim to the throne of world’s biggest Vonnegut fan – I was quite late to the game in fact. Somehow, despite the best efforts of the fine educators that labored mightily to make something of this poor student, I’d never read a Vonnegut novel until a former girlfriend made the case that I should, with all due haste (thanks, dear). I’d never read Kerouac either, but I remedied that on my own a few weeks ago.
While admitting that Slaughterhouse-Five remains my only exposure to said author is likely tantamount to a Pearl Jam “fan” telling you their favorite song by the band is “Alive”, it remains nonetheless the kind of novel I wish I’d read a long time ago. Perhaps it wouldn’t have left the same impression on a high school era sog that it did on the 30-something version (much as Walden was lost on me at the time), but it was nevertheless a stunningly impressive achievement in my eyes.
Much like Stephenson, who has far more in common with Pynchon than he does with Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five was precise with its distance to tragedy. Too far, and you trivialize the gravity of the situation. Too close, and you overwhelm the reader either because you’re unable to capture the horror, or because you are.
Either way, the book had a substance to it that On the Road, for all of its stylistic groundbreaking, lacked.
And for that, as well as the fatalistic optimism that bleeds through the lines, Vonnegut has my respect. You’ll be missed, sir.