Available to listeners for the first time, Sucker’s Portfolio showcases a collection of seven never-before-published works from Kurt Vonnegut, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Short, sardonic, and dark, these six brief fiction stories and one non-fiction piece are consummate Vonnegut with piercing satire and an eye for life’s obscene inanity. Also available for the first time is an unfinished science-fiction short story, included in the appendix.
These stories trace trivial human lives and mundane desires, which is precisely where Vonnegut’s inimitable perspective as a humanist shines, illuminating his alternating hopeful and dismal outlook, although undoubtedly focusing on the latter. Here as in his greatest novels, Vonnegut’s writing takes us to the darkest corners of the human soul and with wit and humor, manages to remind us of our potential to be something greater.
©2012 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Copyright Trust (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
We don't know why Kurt Vonnegut chose to leave these stories (and one essay) unpublished during his lifetime. The facile explanation is that he didn't think they were good enough to publish. Some reviewers have dismissed them based on that assumption.
But we also don't know when Vonnegut wrote them (the essay was written in 1992). We know he gave up on the short story as a literary form quite some time ago, so we can surmise that these are from the same era as those found in the two collections published while he was alive.
We also know that three of the stories in Bagombo Snuff Box were rewritten by Vonnegut for its 1999 publication because he was dissatisfied with them, even though they had already been published elsewhere. The stories in Sucker's Portfolio were never published. Maybe they were rejected, maybe Vonnegut didn't even submit them, maybe he was still working on them, even though all but one are complete as is.
But I can't dismiss them out of hand based solely on the fact that they were never published before. That's because there is some good stuff here -- there is only one story that I didn't like and didn't get at all. But the stories are uneven, some more so than others. They are also too O Henrian, clearly crafted to set up the ironic final reveal, which harks back to Vonnegut's explanation of why he gave up on the form, because it was "too cute".
The bottom line: if you haven't already read all of Vonnegut's novels -- especially his first seven novels -- and the Welcome to the Monkey House collection of stories, that's where you should be going right now. But if you're a completist like me who has already read everything else, there is definitely enough here to keep you interested.
Unfortunately, the narration doesn't enhance the experience. Especially the voices -- most especially the female voices, who all come off with the same mousy, scared tone that is borderline offensive.
Based on content, I would give this a 3 stars. I liked it, and the stories are masterfully crafted, but short stories rarely land with me. This is my first Vonnegut experience, and I definitely think I would pick up more of his full length work, based on what I saw here. The first two short stories were rather depressing and intriguingly strange, and my contentment with the stories went up as the book progressed. My favorite was the penultimate work, a nonfiction essay Vonnegut wrote in 1992 that I might briefly label as Vonnegut's take on "white guilt", but that is far from an all-encompassing description. If I were to rate it as an audiobook, I would bump it up to 4 stars! The narrator, Luke Daniels, is supremely talented! And as I said, short stories aren't really my cup of tea, so I probably would not have finished this without how much I liked this as an audiobook. Plus, the short stories are each between 20 and maybe 45 minutes for the most part, which made it great for listening to basically a whole story on my 25 minute commute to work.
He should not have published the unfinished science-fiction piece. It is really bad. The long, rambling opinion piece is also not ready for publication. But I enjoyed the short fiction. Funny stuff.
Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007. Like Samuel Clemens, he had a better than average grasp of human history, and like Samuel he used humor to point out our failings as a species. Unfortunately, while people appeared to like his humor, his message largely falls on deaf ears. If you read this book, be aware that, despite maintaining his sense of humor. And while he despairs of any hope that humanity will ever throw off our illusion of sanity and begin to remember our past, and see our present with loathing, he always maintained that we are what we pretend to be. Much of this book is a plea that we pretend to be something better.
It would have been better not to have tried this work.
Return to sender.
There's a good reason these haven't been published before.
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