November 02, 2012
Students discuss Kurt VonnegutChris's Review
Kurt Vonnegut was an American science fiction writer and, although I've heard his name for a long time, was a guy I'd never read a word of until just recently. I guess the reason for this is because I'm not much of a sci-fi guy, nor am I interested in reading the work for pleasure (and not for assignment) of a guy born 90 years ago. Maybe I'm just picky.
After reading Vonnegut's famous short story "2BR02B" (pronounced "two be or naught two be," like the famous expression "to be or not to be"), I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Don't let the sci-fi tag fool you or deceive you: Vonnegut is incredibly experimental in his writing. His short stories take place in alternate societies, time periods and worlds. They are difficult to relate to in the sense that they don't happen in environments we are used to.
Instead, Vonnegut relates to us because of the way his characters react to these unfamiliar surroundings. In "2BR02B," the protagonist Edward Wehling is living in a world where the U.S. population is stabilized at exactly 40 million people. Aging has been cured and in order for a new birth to successfully occur, a person must volunteer themselves to die. Of course, no one would want to go through with this, so Edward is found in quite a predicament when his wife is attempting to give birth to triplets.
In the story, Vonnegut tackles the merits of life and what one would be willing to sacrifice to allow the birth of healthy babies. He takes on an alternative viewpoint of the old cliché of the "Circle of Life." This is almost a literal circle: someone must die for someone to be born.
Vonnegut conveys these ideas with beautiful descriptions and rapid-fire believable dialogue. His stories move quickly and if you aren't focused, you'll miss whole, important plot points.
It's hard to pin Kurt Vonnegut as one type of genre. He does the whole sci-fi thing, which I am usually not into, and I probably wouldn't enjoy his writing as much if it wasn't for his fantastic blend of satire and humor. In some instances, Vonnegut is quite sarcastic, and I find this extremely refreshing for a 20th century writer. His writing is very intelligent and his topics are easy for me to relate to.
My professor always says that if you are going to write about something that isn't realistic, you have to make it believable, and I can think of no better example than one of Vonnegut's most famous novels, "Slaughterhouse-Five." This novel is a crazy back and forth and forward novel of the adventures of Billy Pilgrim. During his recounts, he sees himself on Tralfamadore, the planet of the aliens he was abducted by, Dresden during the war, walking in the snow before his German capture, his post-war married life and his murder by a thief. At times, as a reader, it's not even clear what is going on, but you know that something significant is happening.
The details are what really brought the whole thing to life for me. Without the immense attention to detail, I don't think that I would have been able to relate or appreciate the novel as much. Billy Pilgrim becomes "unstuck" in time, which is the reason he is always jumping around. During this section of the novel, he is seeing the entire procession in reverse: "American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation." Vonnegut's ability to paint a picture in heads is incredibly believable.
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