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Walter Starbuck, a career humanist and eventual low-level aide in the Nixon White House, is implicated in Watergate and jailed, after which he (like Howard Campbell in Mother Night) works on his memoirs. Starbuck is innocent (his office was used as a base for the Watergate shenanigans of which he had no knowledge) and yet he is not innocent (he has collaborated with power unquestioningly served societal order all his life). In that sense, Starbuck is a generic Vonnegut protagonist, an individual compromised by the essential lack of interior.

Jailbird (1979) uses the format of the memoir to retrospectively trace Starbuck’s uneven, centerless and purposeless odyssey in or out of the offices of power. He represents another Vonnegut Everyman caught amongst forces which he neither understands nor can defend. Written in the aftermath of Watergate, Jailbird is, of course, an attempt to order those catastrophic events and to find some rationale or meaningful outcome, and, as is usually the case with Vonnegut’s pyrotechnics, there is no easy answer or perhaps there is no answer at all.

Starbuck (his name an Americanized version of his long, foreign birth name), in his profound ambiguity and ambivalence, may himself constitute an explanation for Watergate, a series of whose consequences have not, almost forty years later, been fully assimilated or understood. The Nixon who passes across the panorama of Jailbird is no more or less ambiguous than Starbuck himself--a man without qualities whose overwhelming quality is one of imposition.

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.

Published: RosettaBooks on Jul 28, 1979
ISBN: 9780795318955
List price: $8.99
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Some interesting paradoxes, along with Vonnegut's usual dose of satire. The hero rises in the world because a rich man takes him in as a child to play chess before there were chess computers. Sorned for reporting wrongs during the McCarthy era, he keeps his mouth shut in the middle of Watergate to the same result.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Jailbird begins as a story about a man who has been jailed for having a very insignificant part in the Watergate scandal. Because of this, he is housed in a jail for white collar criminals near Atlanta, Georgia. The story traces his past beginning with his childhood as the son of two servants for the wealthy McCone family and continues on to tell about his life as a Harvard student and role in the HUAC hearings among other things. I found the book to be characteristic of Vonnegut in that it is filled with his trademark wit and dark humor. The reader wants to root for the protagonist to find some sort of fulfillment in life in a world that Vonnegut portrays as being very silly and senseless. Through humorous portrayals of the US government and corporations, Vonnegut provides a scathing mockery of the US economic system and how inhuman we all become within it. I liked this book even though I doubt that Vonnegut and I would agree on a lot of things politically. Regardless of how you feel about the American version of the capitalist system, you have to admit that at many times Vonnegut does point out some of the absurdities of it. Likewise, as I previously mentioned, he does write in such a way as to make you want to root for the protagonist and hope that he gets some sort of justice in his life even though, after comparisons are frequently made to Sacco and Vanzetti, that this isn't likely to happen for him.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
70' KV... Loved this one. A minor Watergate conspirator, power, greed, and a cameo by Kilgore Trout to boot!read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Even if you just read the prologue, you've read, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully written passages in 20th century American lit. I was reading this on a street corner on an obscenely warm July evening and literally got chills when he started describing the falling snow. So brilliant.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book is a little harder to read than some. More of a traditional fictional autobiography. Some of Vonnegut's own mythical autobiography comes through.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Jailbird like most of Vonnegut’s novels, is a tightly woven series of events that create a hilarious and enjoyable story. Walter F. Starbuck is a white collar prisoner falsely accused of crimes associated with the Nixon presidency. His only wrongdoing was having an office within earshot of many conversations he should not have heard. The book opens on the day when he is finally released from jail and he collects his belongings from the future Kilgore Trout. Through a series of silly and coincidental run ins and relationships Walter finds himself floating though a zany adventure. I love Vonnegut for his crazy style and his tight stories. They are full of commentary on humanity, and Vonnegut’s meta writing about the writing being read is a very creative and unorthodox way to tell a story. I personally think Jailbird is the most tightly woven of Vonnegut’s plots and is great fun for readers.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It's not shocking that in Palm Sunday, the "autobiographical collage" Vonnegut compiled/wrote immediately after publishing Jailbird, he grades this book as an A.While this one came first, Jailbird shares a great deal in common with 1985's Galápagos -- specifically, that both novels take place over the course of one very star-crossed day (with numerous forwards- and backwards-looking references, of course), and that both deal with the nastiness of human nature in a surprisingly endearing way. Here, we have Walter F. Starbuck, who epitomizes the good man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time throughout his life, who begins the novel leaving prison after serving his sentence for his involvement in Watergate and ends it about to return to prison for concealing a will.In between, we meet a huge amount of horrible people, and some good ones too, all of whom have contributed to Walter's downfall. Despite it all, he's still a good man (a Vonnegutian man, no doubt), and the novel is saved from potential jadedness by the devil-may-care sweetness of its main character. Still, that such awfulness happens to such a good man is troublesome, and by the end, that's the entire point.Human horridness never looked so good.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There is a tendency, in some instances, when one is reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel, to feel that one has already read that novel. And I started with that sense while reading Jailbird. He makes it seem so easy. He makes it seem so smooth. He makes it seem like you have read this before. And, with this tale, you may think you have, indeed, read all this before. In a way, the book feels as though Vonnegut is just taking the themes of Slaughterhouse V and Cat’s Cradle and, gosh, since they worked so well before, let’s try them again. Hints of Bokononism proliferate, and the Second World War shows up again. And, as I have already stated, Vonnegut makes it all seem so easy, one can quickly fall into the trap of thinking he’s already done this.Maybe he has. But this is a different story, and a different outcome, and a different (but similar) meaning. The intertwining of Watergate and McCarthyism gives the story a different edge – a different meaning to what is going on. And the story really begins to grab when the tale of Sacco and Vinzetti is brought in. (Don’t know who Sacco and Vinzetti are? Look them up. I’m serious; this is an important part of American history you’ll want to know. Go ahead – we’ll all wait here a minute. [“So how’s it going with you? Oh, don’t worry; they’ll be back in a minute. They just went to Google to look up Sacco and Vinzetti.”] Oh, back. See, aren’t you glad you spent the time?”) Yes, they are real, they are an important part of history, of Socialism and how our wonderful country can, every once in a while, really come a cropper and, as Vonnegut tells it, they have as much to do with McCarthy and Watergate as anything. (Of interest, had it been written today, I am sure many people would be calling it an indictment against the current regime.)This is a typical (if there is such a thing) Vonnegut book – one that almost seems silly. But the humor pays, and the reading pays, and the better understanding of events that have shaped us pays. It pays all of us to notice.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of Vonneguts broadsides at American Culture, and lack of morals. I had a hard time caring about the protagonist, so I really didnt care what happened to him. Lower tier Vonnegut.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

Some interesting paradoxes, along with Vonnegut's usual dose of satire. The hero rises in the world because a rich man takes him in as a child to play chess before there were chess computers. Sorned for reporting wrongs during the McCarthy era, he keeps his mouth shut in the middle of Watergate to the same result.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Jailbird begins as a story about a man who has been jailed for having a very insignificant part in the Watergate scandal. Because of this, he is housed in a jail for white collar criminals near Atlanta, Georgia. The story traces his past beginning with his childhood as the son of two servants for the wealthy McCone family and continues on to tell about his life as a Harvard student and role in the HUAC hearings among other things. I found the book to be characteristic of Vonnegut in that it is filled with his trademark wit and dark humor. The reader wants to root for the protagonist to find some sort of fulfillment in life in a world that Vonnegut portrays as being very silly and senseless. Through humorous portrayals of the US government and corporations, Vonnegut provides a scathing mockery of the US economic system and how inhuman we all become within it. I liked this book even though I doubt that Vonnegut and I would agree on a lot of things politically. Regardless of how you feel about the American version of the capitalist system, you have to admit that at many times Vonnegut does point out some of the absurdities of it. Likewise, as I previously mentioned, he does write in such a way as to make you want to root for the protagonist and hope that he gets some sort of justice in his life even though, after comparisons are frequently made to Sacco and Vanzetti, that this isn't likely to happen for him.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
70' KV... Loved this one. A minor Watergate conspirator, power, greed, and a cameo by Kilgore Trout to boot!
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Even if you just read the prologue, you've read, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully written passages in 20th century American lit. I was reading this on a street corner on an obscenely warm July evening and literally got chills when he started describing the falling snow. So brilliant.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This book is a little harder to read than some. More of a traditional fictional autobiography. Some of Vonnegut's own mythical autobiography comes through.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Jailbird like most of Vonnegut’s novels, is a tightly woven series of events that create a hilarious and enjoyable story. Walter F. Starbuck is a white collar prisoner falsely accused of crimes associated with the Nixon presidency. His only wrongdoing was having an office within earshot of many conversations he should not have heard. The book opens on the day when he is finally released from jail and he collects his belongings from the future Kilgore Trout. Through a series of silly and coincidental run ins and relationships Walter finds himself floating though a zany adventure. I love Vonnegut for his crazy style and his tight stories. They are full of commentary on humanity, and Vonnegut’s meta writing about the writing being read is a very creative and unorthodox way to tell a story. I personally think Jailbird is the most tightly woven of Vonnegut’s plots and is great fun for readers.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It's not shocking that in Palm Sunday, the "autobiographical collage" Vonnegut compiled/wrote immediately after publishing Jailbird, he grades this book as an A.While this one came first, Jailbird shares a great deal in common with 1985's Galápagos -- specifically, that both novels take place over the course of one very star-crossed day (with numerous forwards- and backwards-looking references, of course), and that both deal with the nastiness of human nature in a surprisingly endearing way. Here, we have Walter F. Starbuck, who epitomizes the good man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time throughout his life, who begins the novel leaving prison after serving his sentence for his involvement in Watergate and ends it about to return to prison for concealing a will.In between, we meet a huge amount of horrible people, and some good ones too, all of whom have contributed to Walter's downfall. Despite it all, he's still a good man (a Vonnegutian man, no doubt), and the novel is saved from potential jadedness by the devil-may-care sweetness of its main character. Still, that such awfulness happens to such a good man is troublesome, and by the end, that's the entire point.Human horridness never looked so good.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There is a tendency, in some instances, when one is reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel, to feel that one has already read that novel. And I started with that sense while reading Jailbird. He makes it seem so easy. He makes it seem so smooth. He makes it seem like you have read this before. And, with this tale, you may think you have, indeed, read all this before. In a way, the book feels as though Vonnegut is just taking the themes of Slaughterhouse V and Cat’s Cradle and, gosh, since they worked so well before, let’s try them again. Hints of Bokononism proliferate, and the Second World War shows up again. And, as I have already stated, Vonnegut makes it all seem so easy, one can quickly fall into the trap of thinking he’s already done this.Maybe he has. But this is a different story, and a different outcome, and a different (but similar) meaning. The intertwining of Watergate and McCarthyism gives the story a different edge – a different meaning to what is going on. And the story really begins to grab when the tale of Sacco and Vinzetti is brought in. (Don’t know who Sacco and Vinzetti are? Look them up. I’m serious; this is an important part of American history you’ll want to know. Go ahead – we’ll all wait here a minute. [“So how’s it going with you? Oh, don’t worry; they’ll be back in a minute. They just went to Google to look up Sacco and Vinzetti.”] Oh, back. See, aren’t you glad you spent the time?”) Yes, they are real, they are an important part of history, of Socialism and how our wonderful country can, every once in a while, really come a cropper and, as Vonnegut tells it, they have as much to do with McCarthy and Watergate as anything. (Of interest, had it been written today, I am sure many people would be calling it an indictment against the current regime.)This is a typical (if there is such a thing) Vonnegut book – one that almost seems silly. But the humor pays, and the reading pays, and the better understanding of events that have shaped us pays. It pays all of us to notice.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of Vonneguts broadsides at American Culture, and lack of morals. I had a hard time caring about the protagonist, so I really didnt care what happened to him. Lower tier Vonnegut.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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