Thursday, April 12, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has died, from a fall, at the age of 84, beating his long-promised "honorable suicide" via cigarettes. Like many in my generation, reading the Vonnegut canon was an essential teenage rite of passage, and then, when the time came to play at being an adult, the equally essential fashion was to dismiss Vonnegut as a passing and somewhat embarrassing adolescent phase, clever and charming, but not of substance or import. Now, with enough time gone to realize that adulthood isn't all that it's cracked up to be, it's clear that adult judgment was in this case not wiser than adolescent enthusiasm. Vonnegut's gifts as a writer were real, much more than their charming surfaces, and although his words sometimes appeared casual, even flippant, the appearance was deceiving and he handled the heaviest of themes with skepticism, differentiation, and all of the weapons a satirist can carry. (It is no small measure of the strengths of his novels as literature that not one of them has been successfully adapted as a film.) The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse-Five are books to keep around.