Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut, one of the most influential and socially significant novelists of this century, died last night in Manhattan.

Here's the NY Times piece.

As I'm sure is the case with many an aspiring writer, I was deeply affected by Vonnegut's work. Slaughterhouse Five changed my life and my thoughts on what writing is. Breakfast of Champions taught me that humor can be the quickest route to sadness and tragedy, and the quickest way back as well.

As an undergrad and then grad student in literature, I had the opportunity to study Vonnegut's work with one of the best professors of my career. Those long evening sessions during the Illinois winter are burned into my memory as some of the most heady times of my education. The avenues opened up by close examination of Vonnegut's writing defined, or so I thought at the time, the path my life would take.

Of course, I'm no novelist, but every time I re-read something of Vonnegut's, or come across something I've yet to read, the inspiration and pull to write something brilliant inevitably takes hold of my mind.

If you've not read anything of Vonnegut's, read Slaughterhouse Five. Start today. As it was for Vietnam, it is remarkably appropriate for our time. In examining the insanity of violence during World War II, the human beings involved in the body counts, it should speak to us today about what we feel is a good use of human life. Who doesn't wish to become "unstuck in time," as Billy Pilgrim was?

Though he swore off writing novels with the publication of Timequake a few years ago, he continued to contribute to the national conversation through essays and shorter pieces and compilations of previous work.

We can all learn something from the exhortation of the title character of his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. From the Times:

To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” summed up his philosophy:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

His is a voice that will be missed. God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

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