Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut's Letters

Last month I read Kurt Vonnegut: Letters--a massive, edited collection of the author's correspondence.  Epistolary collections may seem boring from the outset, but in fact most are quite interesting, and letters often reveal a side of a writer (or any personality) that one cannot gain from reading other work.

Vonnegut's letters run the gamut--from the intimate and personal to the mundane and business-oriented.  Here we find letters that he wrote to his family as well as letters written to agents, editors and friends in literary circles.  The letters span his lifetime and the final letter was written just days before his death.

Vonnegut (an Indianapolis native) was certainly a galvanizing writer. Following his letter collection, I returned to his opus novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and read it again . . . the last time being when I was in college. Every time I read Vonnegut, I'm not sure what to make of him or his place in contemporary letters.  He's not necessarily a great writer, as far as writing goes . . . but he is certainly unique in style, a trail-blazer in theme, and his work defies categorization.  Perhaps part of his chutzpa was his tongue-in-cheek humor, sharp wit, and his willingness to take on powers in high places.  Part of his fame may derive from the readership he developed--though I find it fascinating that he found few fans and readers of his work in Indianapolis and was, generally, spurned by Hoosiers until more recent years.  Vonnegut, like many writers before him, did not find the Midwest to be a hospitable place for literature and readers few.

Actually, I can say that I've appreciated Vonnegut's non-fiction more than his fiction (in general) and his collected letters would safely fit into this mix.  It's a fun read . . . especially for other writers who enjoy a bit of banter between writer and editor, or who desire a peek inside the publishing business.  It's not a very flattering world. But it is real.  And Vonnegut was all of that

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