WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Kurt Vonnegut makes it look easy

 

Man, this guy slays me. Not only is he a complete crack-up, but he distills things to an absurd level of simplicity that renders their mystery moot. What writer hasn’t struggled over that thing called “story,” trying to figure out how to put her character through some kind of compelling arc that leads to the inevitable, surprising ending? Like a Mad Man for novelists, Mr. Vonnegut shows us how.

I took a class in his work when I was in college, and because the professor knew him personally he suggested we invite Mr. Vonnegut to come and speak to us. In the first week, we drafted our letter, and the prof took our picture on the steps of the ivy-covered administration building — a former convent, as a matter of fact, which might have tickled the man. We mailed off the letter and waited, in the meantime reading everything from The Sirens of Titan to Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! — his current offering. Each class session was a festival of enthusiasm and laughing, which is a wonderful thing, considering some of the dark material Vonnegut deals in. Near the end of the semester, our prof revealed that he’d finally heard back from the author, who graciously declined our invitation. He made some vague excuses but, as I remember it, confided to us that he was still troubled by a note he’d received from a young boy who, having read some of his books, said, “Please, Mr. Vonnegut, don’t kill yourself!”

I think he might have mentioned this in one of his introductions, so I can’t be sure the story was for us or everyone. But it does speak to his slant on life, I think, and I’m glad he took the kid’s advice.

Here are a few KV quotes from Goodreads:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning do to do afterward.”

“The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

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

4 comments on “Kurt Vonnegut makes it look easy

  1. margaretjeanlangstaff
    May 20, 2013

    Five stars! Your anecdote is such a stitch. Vonnegut takes the young and eager–and the previously not Vonnegut-immunized– totally by surprise. His books spin them around, wake them up–and changes their lives. What a seriously funny, tortured, brilliant man. I remember some of my peers when I was younger trying to talk about his books; their eyes often rolled up in their heads and disappeared as they convulsed in laughter and twitched at the shock of truth delivered by a totally original authentic voice. You should read his letters to his son while he was in college. My God. What contortions. And what sweat he expended in the effort to be a responsible, stable, respectable parent. They are a gas. The one in which he attempts to persuade his son to shave off his beard before Vonnegut and the kid’s mother go up for his college graduation makes me hoot just thinking about it. I think his son has written a book about his father and what it was like to (sort of) be his son..

  2. Kevin Brennan
    May 21, 2013

    You’re spot on. He’s a stealth brain-changer. And I’ve ordered a copy of his letters on your recommendation. Thanks!

  3. L. Marie
    May 21, 2013

    Vonnegut is the master storyteller. Thanks for this post!!

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2013 by in Writing and tagged , , , , , .
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