A gift from Mom – Kurt Vonnegut’s final contribution to his oeuvre (barring any posthumous releases), A Man Without a Country. As I understand it, the slim volume is a collection of essays originally published in In These Times, a publication dedicated to ‘...informing and analyzing popular movements for social, environmental and economic justice...’. I’d never heard of the publication before beginning the book and you’ll be at least as informed as I am if you simply click the link.
The truth of the matter is, I know next to nothing about the author – I am certainly no Vonnegut afficionado. With the exception of the interview cited in an earlier WTF post, the only work of his I’ve read is Slaughterhouse Five. That was twenty-plus years ago and I really have no recollection nor opinion of what is, by many accounts, considered a classic. I did find his cynical, old-bastardy position on smoking humourous, refreshing and completely worth co-opting – but other than that impression of the man, as opposed to the author, I went in to this book with few preconceptions.
Well, the few preconceptions I had – cynical, old, bastardy – held up. In each of the essays Vonnegut holds forth on a variety of topics – politics, sex, war, life, etc – in the unmistakable tone of a grumpy, skeptical pessimist. From the Chicago Tribune review, "Vonnegut...is either the world's most optimistic pessimist or its most pessimistic optimist." Either way it wore thin. Some might say, and on occasion it would be fair, that I am grumpy and/or skeptical but I’m certainly not a pessimist. And, in small doses – e.g. the ‘smoker interview’ – his tone resonates. However, in essay after essay, with few exceptions, it became tedious. Particularly when delivering prophecies of imminent doom.
On America’s ‘fossil fuel addiction’:
All lights are about to go out. No more electricity. All forms of transportation are about to stop, and the planet Earth will soon have a crust of skull and bones and dead machinery.
Now, I understand the significance of our global issues w/r/t oil, global warming, war, famine, plague, famine, pestilence, etc. But. Come on. That’s not socio-enviro-economic commentary – it’s the pitch for the third Matrix.
To be fair, that’s about as pessimistic as he gets. There are nuances to his pessimism. The most notable exceptions are the handwritten aphorisms (often poetic) that precede each essay. These, by contrast are often witty, elegant, thought-provoking and occasionally quite moving:
I wanted all things to seem to make some sense, so we could all be happy, yes, instead of tense. And I made up lies, so they all fit nice, and I made this sad world a paradise.
USA Today’s blurb, featured on the back cover, states, "For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations... this is what he is like in person." Well, now that I’ve ‘lived with him’, I think I’m ready to get my own place.
Note: Before any LitCops give me any sh*t vis Slaughterhouse Five – I plan to reread it. Soon.