Sunday, August 09, 2015

Curt Kurt

Kurt Vonnegut is best known as a novelist, but he started as a short story writer.  Not surprising, since it was how many writers from the World War II era broke in.  Indeed, he made a decent living at it (and almost went broke when the market crashed). This was an age, after all, just before TV took over--when people would sit down with the latest magazine and spend an hour or so lost in another world.

And Vonnegut's writing from this age is highly entertaining--as it had to be if he wanted to break into the slicks.  There are solid plots with well-drawn characters who have clear motivations, and often a surprise ending.

The collection of his best stories is Welcome To The Monkey House.  Vonnegut would have been the first to tell you these pieces don't have the depth or meaning of his novels, but as far as keeping you enthralled, they're hard to beat.

Some years later, someone finally collected his uncollected stories and published Bagombo Snuff Box.  Not bad, but you can see why they didn't make the original cut.

Vonnegut died in 2007 but his books still sold.  With no new material coming out, two collections of his unpublished short stories were released, Look At The Birdie and While Mortals Sleep.  These books, which I've just read, give readers the chance to see a young author struggling with themes he'd revisit and working on a style he'd perfect.

These are writings which someone--Vonnegut or publishers--didn't quite think had it.  They were right.  They're not hopeless, and are even entertaining, but while reading them one can hear the faint sound of a barrel bottom being scraped.

So if you've read everything else, go ahead. Otherwise, there's much better Vonnegut to discover. (How's that for a review without actually going into any of the material?)

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