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 thirtyish 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.read more
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) wrote numerous short plays, essays, short stories, and novels including Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions.read more
I would have given Kurt Vonnegut's final fiction piece a higher rating if he didn't seem so cranky. Whereas there was always sweet undertone to his other novels and short stories, IF GOD WERE ALIVE TODAY just felt mean. Also, it could have ended on an incredible note, but I guess Mr. Vonnegut wrote a few more pages before he died, so the finale was kind of abrupt. Had it ended on the previous chapter, it could have been viewed as a masterfully stroke. The first novella was fine and enjoyable, but certainly lacked much of Vonnegut's later dark wit. Still, I preferred that to his last work.read more
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Bookending Vonnegut's career, the two semi-autobiographical stories contained in this unpolished posthumous collection are in print for the first time here. "Basic Training" is the author's earnest first novella, written a few years before Player Piano and never published. In it, an orphaned, wet-behind-the-ears city kid is dispatched to a farm to live with a trio of opinionated female cousins under the watchful eye and iron fist of his uncle, whom he calls "the General." A series of outlandish mishaps and numerous missteps, including an unrequited love and a madcap hitchhiking adventure with a delusional and murderous farmhand, invoke a slightly unhinged Mark Twain. "If God Were Alive Today," unfinished upon the author's death in 2007, raises Vonnegut's signature existential critique of America's warped values and corrupt political climate to a fevered pitch via the uncensored standup routine of his twice-institutionalized protagonist, comedian Gil Berman. Berman's rapid-fire potshots-from the "war on drugs" to global warming ("The farts of our internal combustion engines have wrecked the atmosphere as a protective shield, and as anything a mother would want her child to breathe")-couched in Vonnegut's page-long rants are sometimes tiresome but will make readers wonder what a completed (and edited) novel might've amounted to. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.