Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s newly published Letters, it is nearly impossible to progress more than a page or two without pausing again to admire another wry observation or nod in agreement with some pithy aphorism. It is abundantly apparent even in his casual writing that Vonnegut, who would be celebrating his 90th birthday on November 11, was a writer of sharp intelligence and inventive wit. Although early on he was pigeonholed as a science fiction writer, time has more accurately assessed him as equal parts fabulist and satirist—and 100 percent original.
Like most originals, Vonnegut for many years struggled to find his audience. Although he began publishing widely while still in his 20s, he was not embraced by a large readership until he was past 40. That’s when the perfect storm of 1960s counterculture figured out what this often zany writer was all about, crowning him something of an underground superstar. His masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, sealed the deal. After years of struggle, Vonnegut at last had recognition and the money that came with it.
Yet, as these selected letters—edited and introduced by Vonnegut’s good friend and fellow Hoosier, the novelist Dan Wakefield—make clear, achieving long-desired success did not necessarily guarantee happiness. Indeed, it is the earlier parts of this collected correspondence, which spans more than 60 years, that finds Vonnegut at his blithe best. The years of his first marriage have a warm and hectic feel, characterized by a house full of children. Later, remarried but with his children grown and gone, the writer seems less content, even as he becomes the public face for important causes such as censorship or amnesty for persecuted writers around the world.
After 20 years of writing, Vonnegut finally became an underground superstar, thanks to the 1960s counterculture.
The first—and most striking—letter in the book was written to his family from Le Havre, where Pfc. Kurt Vonnegut awaited transport home after being a German prisoner of war and surviving the firebombing of Dresden. That inferno, of course, would become the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five 20 years later, and this chilling, if typically unadorned account preserves a younger Vonnegut’s memories. Back stateside, Vonnegut pursued a typical GI’s path: marriage, graduate school, a public relations job with General Electric. But he was different from the start. The stories he wrote on nights and weekends began appearing in major magazines, and he started to forge the literary friendships that would sustain his career even in the dark times.
There are many congenial letters to his legendary editors (Knox Burger, Seymour Lawrence), fellow writers (Norman Mailer, Gail Godwin—his student at Iowa), family back in Indiana and his beloved children. One comes away from these missives with an impression of Vonnegut as a benevolent man—father, teacher, colleague, friend—who lived by a simple creed of kindness, even as he lampooned and battled the barbarians at the gate.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Vonnegut's life as told by his letters; a smart idea for a writer with such a distinctive voice. Edited by novelist/screenwriter Dan Wakefield, Vonnegut's friend for over 40 years, the pieces here range from Vonnegut's letter home after being freed from a German POW camp to protests directed at school boards that had banned his books to exchanges with other writers like Norman Mailer and Günter Grass. Five years after his death, Vonnegut remains in the public eye; Slaughter-House Five still sells more than 100,000 copies a year.[Page 52]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Vonnegut's early antiestablishment novels, notably Slaughterhouse Five, were embraced by counterculture youth of the 1960s and '70s as they raged against the debacle of Vietnam and the deceit that was Watergate. Ever popular, Vonnegut's novels, short stories, and essays are still in print and on college reading lists. This selection of his letters to family, friends, editors and publishers, critics, and fellow authors (primarily Gail Godwin, Vance Bourjaily, Nelson Algren) spans the 1940s, when Vonnegut was in his twenties, to his death in 2007. The letters describe his survival, while a POW, of the Allied bombing of Dresden, as well as the fog and fiasco of war. They also reveal a dogged pursuit of his chosen profession and a desperate need for financial security and recognition that rendered him spiteful, self-aggrandizing, sarcastic, sensitive to criticism, and intermittently estranged from family and friends. Vonnegut's longtime friend, novelist Wakefield (Going All the Way) prefaces the letters with interesting contextual biographical and literary information. VERDICT For Vonnegut readers and libraries, this is an essential complement to Charles Shields's recent biography, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut; A Life.--Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal[Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. Organized by decade from the 1940s to the 2000s (Vonnegut died in 2007), the letters chart Vonnegut's life from his service in WWII to his first steps in the world of publishing, his emergence into literary fame, and beyond. The grain of Vonnegut's charming and unmistakable voice is palpable, along with his sense of humor that produces unexpected poetry on almost every page. The private and public Vonneguts both shine, as in his magical letters to his many children, or his painful reflections on divorce, war, and growing older. Elsewhere Vonnegut reveals aspects of his writing process and his philosophy of fiction, and marks his ongoing opposition to violence and censorship. Of particular literary interest are his letters to such authors as Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Bernard Malamud, and Jose Donoso. Edited by writer and longtime friend Wakefield, the volume begins with a warm retrospective essay, and each section is prefaced with overviews of each decade of Vonnegut's life, as well as helpful notes to explain his references. Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut's best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats. Agent: The Farber Agency. (Oct.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC