confession (and so it goes)

edit: fixed markup so it actually makes cognitive sense

I didn’t like Vonnegut.

He had one good book in him (Slaughterhouse-Five) and then he kept writing it again. Norman Mailer had a similar trajectory. The war, then The Naked and the Dead, followed by celebrity and admiration and a string of terrible books. Vonnegut had good ideas after that, but not very good books. He’s a bad influence on other writers, and he was a bad influence on himself in the same way. That self-important, nearly echolalic fairy-tale storytelling style never varied. Reading Vonnegut never felt like hearing a story; it was more like being backed into a corner at a cocktail party by the man himself while he told his too-familiar stories yet again.

Like Tom Robbins and John irving, Kurt Vonnegut wrote young adult novels that were sold to grown-ups. Like other counterculture heroes and hippie gurus, he was an unmoveable conservative who never changed his style or his message. And like the Grateful Dead, he had armies of fans who would never doubt him.

I’ve felt this way about Vonnegut for a long time. There’s been more violent opposition to this opinion is than most of my tiresome and admittedly annoying political and philosophical ideas or even my macaroni & cheese recipe. I have lost two “LJ Friends” over Vonnegut and I shouldn’t talk books with some of my friends in case The Topic comes up.

I can’t say so for sure, but I think Vonnegut himself tired of being a sacred object.

27 thoughts on “confession (and so it goes)

  1. truth be told, im not quite a reader and have no opinion on him either way.
    ….but he was great in “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield and Robert Downey Jr.

  2. I read the first chapter of Cats Cradle when I was 12. I liked the part of about the older couple on the plane, who were so in love, a duprass, but then what 12 yr old girl wouldn’t?: “Horlick Minton, the New American Ambassador to the Republic of San Lorenzo, and his wife, Claire…They were lovebirds. They entertained each other with little gifts: sights worth seeing out the plane window, amusing or instructive bits from things they read, random recollections of times gone by. They were, I think, a flawless example of what Bokonon calls a duprass, which is a karass composed only of two persons…”
    Ideal romantic love.
    But I didn’t get beyond that really, the book seemed too silly.
    I loved Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, still do, not that I’ve read much else of his. PK Dick just doesn’t do it for me, nor sci-fi in general.

    1. It’s fortunate that Pynchon’s shortest book is one of his best. the others are daunting in sheer size if you don’t already have an idea you’ll like him.
      I liked Cat’s Cradle for Ice Nine which was a wonderful idea. That’s about it.

  3. i must admit, all the vonnegut i have read, i read before i graduated high school. loved it then, but what would those books be like to read now? not sure i care. i still have some of the old paperbacks, but have never bothered to pick them up and read again, unlike other earlier literary loves that are still part of my life.
    you can talk books anytime. i’m not going to drop you if you hate my favorite authors or bands or whatever. well, unless you make it your LJ’s work to make fun of them constantly. that’s just boring.

  4. I’ve been thinking along similar lines in the last couple of days. I liked him tremendously as a person, and saw him speak once, and always enjoyed when he would step into the public eye, remind us about how screwed we are, and dissappear again for a couple of years.
    But his books, yeesh. The writing was nice, and I didn’t mind the stories. But I could never read one more than once. Shit, I’ll even read Stephen King books a second time. With Vonnegut I’d start, realize I knew exactly what was going to happen and that it was going to be an unpleasant trip that I didn’t want to make again. And I didn’t get the impression that the trip would pay off in finding subtle counter-messages or symbolism beyond the overt ones that he spent whole books pummelling me in the face with.

  5. Ballsy of you. You make the case well, too.
    I thought Hocus-Pocus was a perfectly decent novel for grownups, though – in a category with Updike’s “Toward the End of Time,” I think. Hardly any hectoring into a corner there. He does insert himself into the book as he does with all of his novels, but it’s a one-off gag you could easily miss.

  6. I love Vonnegut, but I can’t believe you lost LJ friends over not loving him. How incomprehensible. It’s like those people who hear you’re not into punk or Willie Nelson or whatever, and think you’re lame for that. Who cares?

  7. I really miss talking books with you. We don’t always like the same stuff, but that’s always been cool by me. It would be good to have someone to talk books with, though. I miss that and you 🙂

  8. The people I know:
         Who were eulogizing Vonnegut this past week all seemed to think
    that his one good book was something called Mother Night.  I've
    never read any of his novels myself, so I'm in no position to say,
    but I recall enjoying in a general way the couple of his short stories
    that I've read over the years.
                                   Mike
  9. i managed to lose an internet-friend-turned-real-life-friend once over my dislike of j.d. salinger. i just don’t like him, and this guy wanted peopel to call him “holden.” he was one of those. he kept trying to make me see how it was just a lack of intelligence on my part that was causing me to dislike this Great Work by a Great Man. it was rather distressing in a comical sort of way.
    it’s weird how personally people take stuff like that.

    1. That’s another great book that’s a horrible influence. It’s a fine thing to read when you’re 16, but it will make you write that way if you read it when you’re 25.

  10. I started reading Slapstick as soon as he died, just since he died and since I hadn’t read it;
    Its very entertaining, so he leaves the world in my mind pleasantly, even if he isn’t my favorite author.
    Still he was talented, and very humorously original.

  11. You’re not going to piss me off by dissing Vonnegut. Feel free to tell me that Joseph Heller only had one good book in him— I won’t argue— but I’ll slap you if you tell me it was God Knows. I’m trying hard to think of another famous author of Literature that I feel strongly about, and I’m coming up empty. I got nothing.
    You got suggestings?

  12. Reading Vonnegut never felt like hearing a story; it was more like being backed into a corner at a cocktail party by the man himself while he told his too-familiar stories yet again.
    That is the best. That pretty much sums up how I feel about his writing, too.

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