Perhaps the most autobiographical (and deliberately least disciplined) of Vonnegut's novels, Slapstick (1976) is in the form of a broken family odyssey and is surely a demonstration of its eponymous title. The story centers on brother and sister twins, children of Wilbur Swain, who are in sympathetic and (possibly) telepathic communication and who represent Vonnegut's relationship with his own sister who died young of cancer almost two decades before the book's publication. Vonnegut dedicated this to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Like their films and routines, this novel is an exercise in non-sequentiality and in the bizarre while using those devices to expose larger and terrible truths. The twins exemplify to Swain a kind of universal love; he campaigns for it while troops of technologically miniaturized Chinese are launched upon America. Love and carnage intersect in a novel contrived to combine credibility and common observation; critics could sense Vonnegut deliberately flouting narrative constraint or imperative in an attempt to destroy the very idea of the novel he was writing.
Slapstick becomes both product and commentary, event and self-criticism; an early and influential example of contemporary "metafiction". Vonnegut's tragic life - like the tragic lives of Laurel, Hardy, Buster Keaten and other exemplars of slapstick comedy - is the true center of a work whose cynicism overlays a trustfulness and sense of loss which are perhaps deeper and truer than expressed in any of Vonnegut's earlier or later works. Slapstick is a clear demonstration of the profound alliance of comedy and tragedy which, when Vonnegut is working close to his true sensibility, become indistinguishable.
©1976 Kurt Vonnegut (P)2015 Audible Inc.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
“And how did we
then face the odds,
of man's rude slapstick,
yes, and God's?
Quite at home and unafraid,
in a game
our dreams remade.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!
My 15-ear-old son broke the screen on his iPhone 6s. I'm letting him buy down the debt (to me) by reading 6 Vonnegut novels before the end of the year. Every book he reads, drops his big OWE down by $10, up to $60. He is still on the hook for the other $80. This is what happens when daddy is an absurdist, but rules like a fascist King. Hi ho.
So, I've decided to read a lot of the Vonnegut novels he's going to be reading before the end of the year too. It has been 30 years since I went on a huge Vonnegut tear. It seems in an era of Donald Trump I'm going to need as many absurdist tools on my belt as possible. What better way than a book about loneliness, incest (perhaps not, or technically yes, but also not), disease, the destruction of America, and the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped.
There are other, stronger Vonneguts where I could have started, but I'm also trying to go through my Library of America Vonnegut: Novels 1976-1985. Plus, it is hard to avoid a book that uses the phrase “Why don't you take a flying f#@% at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying f#@% at the mooooooooooooon?” often and with literary abandon.
As far as the stars, the book itself probably only warrants a Vonnegut 3-star (except for the fact that the autobiographical introduction is so good, I'm tossing in another star because, well, I can).
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