Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So He Goes
We lost a great one this week: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died at age 84.

I think the first Vonnegut I read was "The Sirens of Titan," in 9th grade study hall. This was 20 years ago, and I've never re-read the book, but the audacity and absurdity of the ideas--from the opening section in which a depressed, nearly suicidal man makes his fortune by choosing stock investments based on three-letter sequences from the Book of Genesis, to the close when it's revealed that the greatest architectural marvels of the Earth were built so they could be read from space--still blow me away today. "Cat's Cradle," "Breakfast of Champions," "Welcome to the Monkeyhouse," and "Slaughterhouse Five" all made similarly deep impressions; at a time when I felt so at odds with the world around me, here was a man whose mind seemed to work in similar ways, and who could somehow transform his outrage and sadness into incredibly inventive, comic, touching stories. His work was inspiring, and a big part of why I wanted to become a writer.

I wouldn't put Vonnegut's prose up there with Delillo or Pamuk or any number of other great novelists of this period, but what he arguably lacked in style or literary pyrotechnics, he more than made up for in social conscience and human warmth. One had a sense of who he was as a person, and what he cared about--a claim that can't as readily be made about most of the great postmodern writers. This clip of Vonnegut on The Daily Show, from a year or two back, shows the man in all his lovable cantankerousness. His passing leaves a void for both his humor and his heart.

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