Called “our finest black-humorist” by The Atlantic Monthly, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now his first and last works come together for the first time in print, in a collection aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be.
Written to be sold under the pseudonym of “Mark Harvey,” Basic Training was never published in Vonnegut’s lifetime. It appears to have been written in the late 1940s and is therefore Vonnegut’s first ever novella. It is a bitter, profoundly disenchanted story that satirizes the military, authoritarianism, gender relationships, parenthood, and most of the assumed mid-century myths of the family. Haley Brandon, the adolescent protagonist, comes to the farm of his relative, the old crazy who insists upon being called The General, to learn to be a straight-shooting American. Haley’s only means of survival will lead him to unflagging defiance of the General’s deranged (but oh so American, oh so military) values. This story and its 30ish author were no friends of the milieu to which the slick magazines’ advertisers were pitching their products.
When Vonnegut passed away in 2007, he left his last novel unfinished. Entitled If God Were Alive Today, this last work is a brutal satire on societal ignorance and carefree denial of the world’s major problems. Protagonist Gil Berman is a middle-aged college lecturer and self-declared stand-up comedian who enjoys cracking jokes in front of a college audience while societal dependence on fossil fuels has led to the apocalypse. Described by Vonnegut as, “the stand-up comedian on Doomsday,” Gil is a character formed from Vonnegut’s own rich experiences living in a reality Vonnegut himself considered inevitable.
Along with the two works of fiction, Vonnegut’s daughter, Nanette shares reminiscences about her father and commentary on these two works - both exclusive to this edition. In this fiction collection, published in print for the first time, exist Vonnegut’s grand themes: trust no one, trust nothing; and the only constants are absurdity and resignation, which themselves cannot protect us from the void but might divert.
©2012 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Literary Trust, Foreword copyright © 2012 by Nanette Vonnegut. (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
We Are What We Pretend To Be shows the evolution of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing at the beginning and end of his career. It contains two of the author’s works. His first novella, Basic Training stands in stark contrast to his unfinished novel If God Were Alive Today. The former is a rather straight forward satire on the military, authoritarian parenting and authoritarianism in general. The latter is a completely wild and nutty, satirical look at our ignorance and denial of an apocalyptic future. Recently, I listened to a radio ad for The Last Warcrime. While I agreed with the message, the way the ad was delivered left something to be desired. I felt a little of that in IGWAT.
While the nexus of the two works is unmistakably satire, the whole feel, vocabulary and styles of writing in the two books could easily have been written by different authors. I think we hear the voice of Vonnegut in Basic Training but it is definitely a younger although not immature one. In the latter, the author comes across definitely older and more irascible, more universal and less personal.
While this might be his first and last work, I think most of KV's finest work is in many places in between. For someone new to KV, I would not recommend starting here. Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle or my personal favorite The Sirens of Titan would be a better introduction to the author. For hardcore KV fans, WAWWPTB is probably essential reading.
This is a quick read/listen. The narration in my Audible selection is quite good. Plus, in this edition, the author’s daughter Nanette shares reminiscences about her father and a commentary on these two works.
Absolutely. It is amazing to see where he went throughout his life and career. To hear his first book and his last book together is like having a glimpse into how he grew over the years.
I enjoyed following Vonnegut's changing style and view of the world.
I've not heard any other performances by any of the narrators but I thought they were all excellent.
There were two stories. The end of the first story was extremely heartening. The end of the second story was like bringing everything home. It was great for closure.
This was an excellent book. Any fans of Kurt Vonnegut would be wise to buy it!
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