Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., died Wednesday evening, apparently of complications from brain injuries sustained after a fall at his Manhattan residence. The Indianapolis Star had reported earlier Wednesday that he would be unable to give the planned 2007 McFadden Memorial lecture later this month, and just a day or two ago it was announced that his novel Slaughterhouse-Five would be the One Book, One City selection in this Year of Reading Kurt Vonnegut.

I wonder what he would have thought of the idea of dying during the year he was being fêted by his hometown...what he would have thought of finally shuffling off this mortal coil because of brain injuries - and not from smoking. I suspect that he would have, in the words of one of his characters from a later novel called Hocus Pocus, "laughed like hell." Brain injuries!

What will he think of next!

Much has been said about his novels, of course - especially Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, but also Player Piano, his first novel, and Breakfast Of Champions, one of the novels in which his fictional alter ego, science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, figures prominently. Not as much has been said about his fine books of non-fiction, including Palm Sunday; Fates Worse Than Death; Wampeters, Foma, And Granfalloons; and A Man Without A Country - which wound up being his last book. Palm Sunday is very good, and what I have so far read of Fates Worse Than Death, which I just started last night, believe it or not, is also very fine.

There are a number of news sites, at the time of this writing, that are leading off with articles about Mr. Vonnegut's passing. The best of the ones I have read since I got home from work is from the New York Times, and can be found here. The Times online front page also has a great picture of him, in what looks like a subway station or some kind of underground room, with big glasses on, a tiny stub of a cigarette bewteen his fingers, and a plume of smoke in front of his face.

Now that's a parting shot!

'Tis true, as some critics say, that some of his work verges on the incoherent; but let it also be known that few writers were ever better architects of the English language than was Kurt Vonnegut. He had a way with words - sometimes making them up as he went along - and a way of arranging those words that was sometimes funnier than what the words actually said, sort of like when you laugh because of the way another person is laughing, and not necessarily because of what they were laughing at in the first place. A quote from Time magazine, on the covers of the paperback editions of some of his novels, describes him as "zany." I don't know of many other novelists who could be described that way. He will be missed.

So it goes.

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