30 May 2012

Kurt Vonnegut, Look at the Birdie, 2009

Fourteen previously unpublished short stories, all enjoyable at the very least, although it would have been useful to know from what stages of Vonnegut’s career each of them were written – were they all recent, or do some perhaps date back decades? Then there’s the genre question: there’s roughly a 50/50 genre/mainstream split, with the more imaginative and fantastical stories not necessarily being the best, although the opening story ‘Confido’ sets a superior quality mark that those following don’t always match. The collection is prefaced with Vonnegut’s 1951 letter to Miller Harris, in which he states his creative position as a writer since quitting his job at General Electric in 1951; it’s an odd way to open a collection such as this as the stories, with a few exceptions, rarely stand out as boldly imaginative. And Vonnegut’s satirical purpose is not always present either, with stories such as ‘The Honor of a Newsboy’, ‘Ed Luby’s Key Club’ and the charmingly sweet ‘A Song for Selma’ being as sentimental about ‘the ordinary little guy’ as Vonnegut probably ever got. For a sharper tone of storytelling the best here is probably ‘Little Drops of Water’ about a spurned lover’s attempts to get back her man, and the most satirical is the clever ‘The Petrified Ants’, which takes a jaundiced view of the Soviet approach to making an amazing scientific discovery. It provides the best laugh-out-loud moment and this collection, admirable as it is, could probably have done with a few more of those.  PY


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