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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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut’s audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut’s work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut’s work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut’s reputation (like Mark Twain’s) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut’s World War II POW experience) and Cat’s Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut’s work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut’s work as well as newcomers.

Topics: Dark

Published: RosettaBooks on Aug 21, 1976
ISBN: 9780795319310
List price: $8.99
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My absolute favourite Vonnegut novel. Satire-light, if you will. Totally digestable humour with a lesson.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I loved Vonnegut in high school and then, for reasons I don't in retrospect understand, I classed him among the childish things to put away when I got to college. In the last year or two-- about a decade after college-- I've gone back and read some of the novels I loved in high school. The ones I remember being the best-- Mother Night and Cat's Cradle, e.g.-- are amazing. They're like fascinating and funny clockwork. The individual gears and springs are beautiful in their own right, but when all the pieces come together and function as a whole, it's almost hard to believe.I didn't remember much about Slapstick. Reading it again, all grow'd up, it's easy to see why. If the best Vonnegut novels are functioning watches, Slapstick reads like it was cobbled together from gears and springs found around the shop, then abandoned half-finished.Some of the components are wonderful. Slapstick is the book that develops Vonnegut's idea of artificial families-- family groupings based on shared middle names, assigned at random by a computer. It's a neat idea, and he spells out a few imagined ripple-effects. The book also features a long preface, written in his own voice, that is something special. He gives some history of his family, and writes a bit about the origins of Slapstick. In the preface he mentions writing books with his sister in mind-- she the only member of his audience. I don't know if he talks about this elsewhere in more detail, but his comments on writing with his sister in mind-- both before and after she died-- I've always found wonderful and touching. (Also helpful as a suggestion for writing most anything.)There are also some problems. The Vonnegut tics-- in this book they're “Hi ho” and “And so on”-- don't add any texture to the story. Certainly nothing like the neck-wrenching nihilism of Slaughterhouse 5's “So it goes.” In Slapstick, they're just tics. There are ideas thrown in but not developed. Variable gravity and miniaturized Chinese. These ideas are structurally integrated in a way that makes them seem like they're supposed to be important. But if they serve any purpose of plot, theme, or metaphor, I failed to notice. The book stops abruptly, without resolution. (There's a comment, at the end, about how it is fitting to stop, here, at the climax of the main character's life. But, given the events of the book, no one could take such a claim seriously.) It's almost as if Vonnegut decided to cut his losses after realizing the novel wasn't going to work out.Broken watches are still fun to look at. Page by page, Slapstick is fun, too. It's got the usual mix of funny and sad, thought-provoking passages mixed with crude humor. Just don't go in mistaking it for a functioning novel.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I love Vonnegut. As an Indiana native, it fills me with a profound sense of joy that a literary icon was born in Indianapolis, and it is one with the sick sense of humor that Vonnegut has, so even his worse stuff to me is going to be awesome.The way I'm working through his collection is only reading them when I own them. I only have one book of his that I've not purchased that I've read, and that'll soon change.Strangely however, I think I had read this one before I bought it.Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensily. What made it extra cool is that I read Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons before I read this (which is a collection of essays and interviews and speeches) so seeing the ideas that Vonnegut shoves down your throat in this book revealed early was a facinating experience. if Only I was a little older, and I could have had that joy when this book was new.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
By Vonnegut's own admission not one of his best, and yet I still enjoyed it more than 90% of what I've read this year.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Vonnegut was brilliant with Slaughterhouse Five, but his next several books were dreadfully derivative -- this piece of narcissistic bilge being perhaps the worst of the lot. And so on.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In Fates Worse Than Death, Vonnegut says that it was a sequel to Palm Sunday. But I think that maybe both might be background for Slapstick.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm starting to think that the creative basis for this novel was the phrase "Hi ho", which the narrator, Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain--King of Manhattan, landlord and tenant of the vacant Empire State Building, genius idiot, pediatrician, twin, and former tallest President of the United States--repeats quite often throughout his story. And novels probably shouldn't be based on short, almost meaningless phrases. The story sort of meanders along in that effortlessly entertaining way that Vonnegut has, but in the end there doesn't seem to be a point, or much of a plot either. The best thing in here, which could have made for a much better story, was the idea of the Chinese becoming so advanced as a civilization that they shrink down to the size of microorganisms and learn to dematerialize to Mars, cure breast cancer with gongs, and possibly manipulate gravity. That would have been an awesome novel right there, but it's just mentioned in the periphery of the main goings-on of the book. Which doesn't really have an ending, by the way. It just sort of stops. I guess this is one to read if you already like Kurt Vonnegut and want to read all of his books, but if you haven't tried him yet then I would avoid Slapstick for now.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Not my favorite Vonnegut book, but I did like it. It was a little hard to follow in some parts, but I don't think the point was to follow the story. It starts out kind of slow, but it becomes interesting toward the middle/end.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really enjoyed this book. It was my first Vonnegut experience, and the mutant genius children instantly appealed to me and drew me into their secluded lives. After reading Cat's Cradle, I'm not sure if I would have liked this book if I had read it afterwards. To me they seem cut from the same cloth, and I started wondering very quickly whether he had some kind of template.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Funny, but dated. The reader will have no trouble placing this novel in the energy worried, malaise ridden Carter years of the '70's.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Unfortunately Vonnegut is winding down here. There are enough good moments to make this a worthwhile read, but it is almost too easy to read. You just want to expect more from him.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Not Vonnegut's best, but also not his worst, in my opinion. Starts a bit slow, and finds itself rooted much more strongly in autobiography than some of his others, but I did think the plot eventually became more clever, if painfully unresolved.Recommended, but probably only for true Vonnegut fans.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This typical Vonnegut novel weaves in many of his usual settings and topics: Indianapolis; Urbana, Illinois; Dresden (although late and little--see if you can find it); German-Americans; and a future version of Earth--in this case a sort of post-apocalyptic America. Plainly written in his signature style, it is a biography of sorts of a set of twins born deformed, to a very rich family. Their trials and travails of being physically challenged and mentally super-superior makes for some interesting twists and turns, and provoking tragedies and sadness at times. A master designer is to a smock as Vonnegut is to slapstick. Functional, beautiful, tragic, plain, enduring, not believable, Vonnegut.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Vonnegut is a beast. His futures are imaginative, well conceived, engaging, and thought provoking. Feel free to add all of your favorite positive adjectives to this list.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, the King of Manhattan. One of my 5 favorite KV's.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

My absolute favourite Vonnegut novel. Satire-light, if you will. Totally digestable humour with a lesson.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I loved Vonnegut in high school and then, for reasons I don't in retrospect understand, I classed him among the childish things to put away when I got to college. In the last year or two-- about a decade after college-- I've gone back and read some of the novels I loved in high school. The ones I remember being the best-- Mother Night and Cat's Cradle, e.g.-- are amazing. They're like fascinating and funny clockwork. The individual gears and springs are beautiful in their own right, but when all the pieces come together and function as a whole, it's almost hard to believe.I didn't remember much about Slapstick. Reading it again, all grow'd up, it's easy to see why. If the best Vonnegut novels are functioning watches, Slapstick reads like it was cobbled together from gears and springs found around the shop, then abandoned half-finished.Some of the components are wonderful. Slapstick is the book that develops Vonnegut's idea of artificial families-- family groupings based on shared middle names, assigned at random by a computer. It's a neat idea, and he spells out a few imagined ripple-effects. The book also features a long preface, written in his own voice, that is something special. He gives some history of his family, and writes a bit about the origins of Slapstick. In the preface he mentions writing books with his sister in mind-- she the only member of his audience. I don't know if he talks about this elsewhere in more detail, but his comments on writing with his sister in mind-- both before and after she died-- I've always found wonderful and touching. (Also helpful as a suggestion for writing most anything.)There are also some problems. The Vonnegut tics-- in this book they're “Hi ho” and “And so on”-- don't add any texture to the story. Certainly nothing like the neck-wrenching nihilism of Slaughterhouse 5's “So it goes.” In Slapstick, they're just tics. There are ideas thrown in but not developed. Variable gravity and miniaturized Chinese. These ideas are structurally integrated in a way that makes them seem like they're supposed to be important. But if they serve any purpose of plot, theme, or metaphor, I failed to notice. The book stops abruptly, without resolution. (There's a comment, at the end, about how it is fitting to stop, here, at the climax of the main character's life. But, given the events of the book, no one could take such a claim seriously.) It's almost as if Vonnegut decided to cut his losses after realizing the novel wasn't going to work out.Broken watches are still fun to look at. Page by page, Slapstick is fun, too. It's got the usual mix of funny and sad, thought-provoking passages mixed with crude humor. Just don't go in mistaking it for a functioning novel.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I love Vonnegut. As an Indiana native, it fills me with a profound sense of joy that a literary icon was born in Indianapolis, and it is one with the sick sense of humor that Vonnegut has, so even his worse stuff to me is going to be awesome.The way I'm working through his collection is only reading them when I own them. I only have one book of his that I've not purchased that I've read, and that'll soon change.Strangely however, I think I had read this one before I bought it.Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensily. What made it extra cool is that I read Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons before I read this (which is a collection of essays and interviews and speeches) so seeing the ideas that Vonnegut shoves down your throat in this book revealed early was a facinating experience. if Only I was a little older, and I could have had that joy when this book was new.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
By Vonnegut's own admission not one of his best, and yet I still enjoyed it more than 90% of what I've read this year.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Vonnegut was brilliant with Slaughterhouse Five, but his next several books were dreadfully derivative -- this piece of narcissistic bilge being perhaps the worst of the lot. And so on.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In Fates Worse Than Death, Vonnegut says that it was a sequel to Palm Sunday. But I think that maybe both might be background for Slapstick.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm starting to think that the creative basis for this novel was the phrase "Hi ho", which the narrator, Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain--King of Manhattan, landlord and tenant of the vacant Empire State Building, genius idiot, pediatrician, twin, and former tallest President of the United States--repeats quite often throughout his story. And novels probably shouldn't be based on short, almost meaningless phrases. The story sort of meanders along in that effortlessly entertaining way that Vonnegut has, but in the end there doesn't seem to be a point, or much of a plot either. The best thing in here, which could have made for a much better story, was the idea of the Chinese becoming so advanced as a civilization that they shrink down to the size of microorganisms and learn to dematerialize to Mars, cure breast cancer with gongs, and possibly manipulate gravity. That would have been an awesome novel right there, but it's just mentioned in the periphery of the main goings-on of the book. Which doesn't really have an ending, by the way. It just sort of stops. I guess this is one to read if you already like Kurt Vonnegut and want to read all of his books, but if you haven't tried him yet then I would avoid Slapstick for now.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Not my favorite Vonnegut book, but I did like it. It was a little hard to follow in some parts, but I don't think the point was to follow the story. It starts out kind of slow, but it becomes interesting toward the middle/end.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I really enjoyed this book. It was my first Vonnegut experience, and the mutant genius children instantly appealed to me and drew me into their secluded lives. After reading Cat's Cradle, I'm not sure if I would have liked this book if I had read it afterwards. To me they seem cut from the same cloth, and I started wondering very quickly whether he had some kind of template.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Funny, but dated. The reader will have no trouble placing this novel in the energy worried, malaise ridden Carter years of the '70's.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Unfortunately Vonnegut is winding down here. There are enough good moments to make this a worthwhile read, but it is almost too easy to read. You just want to expect more from him.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Not Vonnegut's best, but also not his worst, in my opinion. Starts a bit slow, and finds itself rooted much more strongly in autobiography than some of his others, but I did think the plot eventually became more clever, if painfully unresolved.Recommended, but probably only for true Vonnegut fans.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This typical Vonnegut novel weaves in many of his usual settings and topics: Indianapolis; Urbana, Illinois; Dresden (although late and little--see if you can find it); German-Americans; and a future version of Earth--in this case a sort of post-apocalyptic America. Plainly written in his signature style, it is a biography of sorts of a set of twins born deformed, to a very rich family. Their trials and travails of being physically challenged and mentally super-superior makes for some interesting twists and turns, and provoking tragedies and sadness at times. A master designer is to a smock as Vonnegut is to slapstick. Functional, beautiful, tragic, plain, enduring, not believable, Vonnegut.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Vonnegut is a beast. His futures are imaginative, well conceived, engaging, and thought provoking. Feel free to add all of your favorite positive adjectives to this list.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, the King of Manhattan. One of my 5 favorite KV's.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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