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We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works [Kindle Edition]

Kurt Vonnegut

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Book Description

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.

Product Description


Nature, 10/24/13 "Vonnegut's first and last pieces are pervaded by his trademark dark humour." Hudson Valley News, 10/16/13 "Written forty years apart, these two pieces share the typical Vonnegut voice. And if you love his work, you will want to add this book to your collection." John Shelton Ivany Top 21, Issue #434 "Turn off the electronics and put aside your contemporary crises, for what stands before us is a truly transhistorical story teller that deserves at least one read. This book should be our first, and our last, concern."

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 277 KB
  • Print Length: 184 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1593157436
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (18 Sept. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #473,685 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was a writer, lecturer and painter. He was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During WWII, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers, an experience which inspired Slaughterhouse Five. First published in 1950, he went on to write fourteen novels, four plays, and three short story collections, in addition to countless works of short fiction and nonfiction. He died in 2007.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Humiliating & Unnecessary 12 Jan. 2013
By Alexander T. Newport - Published on
Let me begin this review by listing my favourite Vonnegut novels---that way you can see what my standards are.

The Sirens of Titan
Mother Night
Cat's Cradle
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Slaughterhouse 5
Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut had at least 2 phases in his career as an author. The first was when he was writing safe, careful fiction for magazines, and the second was when he wrote irreverent, novel-length narratives in his flagrantly subjective style.

This book, We Are What We Pretend to Be, offers 2 items: The first, Basic Training, written in the 1940s, is a long story of about 80 pages. It was written during his magazine phase. From a technical point of view, it was written well. The sentences are constructed nicely and the story flows at a good pace. But there is nothing irreverent about the story and we do not "hear" Vonnegut's voice. It is not the least bit funny or clever. It's just a run of the mill story which he was unable to get published---and rightly so.

The second item, If God Were Alive Today, written in 2000, is presented as a NOVELLA, when in fact it is nothing more than a 1st draft of a tentative novel that Vonnegut abandoned long before he was even close to finishing it. It is appallingly stupid, lame, and not the least bit funny, and there is no way whatsoever that Vonnegut would have approved of releasing it to the public. It was clearly just a helpless, sputtering emission from a machine that couldn't stop itself from going through the motions---even though 5 of its 8 cylinders no longer worked. It was only a writer's exercise; something to do rather than watch television. He didn't have any intention of finishing it---or publishing it.

In the Foreword, written by Nanette Vonnegut, it talks about If God Were Alive Today and it says, "...there is hilarity, wisdom, and redemption along the way."
No there isn't.
Not at all.

Nanette should be red-faced with shame. From here on forward she shall be known as Tomato Vonnegut.

Talk about a rip-off...and scraping the bottom of the barrel...

And the worst thing about this book is that a brilliant title was wasted on it!

Shame on you, Tomato Vonnegut---and Vanguard Press---and all the ignorant sycophants who praise this graveyard robbery.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What did you expect? 6 Mar. 2013
By JohnH - Published on
I scanned both stories from "We Are What We Pretend to Be" before I tok it home. At first glance, "Basic Training" seemed like a simple straight forward story that might be enjoyable and readable. While "If God Were Alive Today" appeared to be a social/political rant as told through a fictional comedian and is reminiscent of some previous works where words were strung together with little or no coherence. My first impressions turned out to be pretty much on the money and I would have probably put it back on the shelf if not for the fact that Mr Vonnegut is an Indiana treasure and by reading these stories perhaps I could pay a silent homage to a fellow Hoosier whose work filled my young adult formative years with the opinion that things are not always what they appear to be. If you are looking for a literary masterpiece by Mr Vonnegut then this book probably will not meet your expectations. Then again, everyone interprets things differently and maybe I'm wrong. The only way to find out is to read it for yourself.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wow was that disappointing 4 Feb. 2013
By Ogr8ys1 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At the time of this writing there are 7 reviews with four of them giving it five stars. I would suggest to those reviewers to go back and read Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse 5 to see what a five star book is, for this is not even close.

The first story "Basic Training" is simply a turd with Vonnegut's name attached to it. It is predictable, boring, and not engaging at all. You can see KV struggle with his words clumsily to make a point that need not be made. There is a reason why this story was never published and if you listen closely to his grave you could probably hear him howling a "Noooooooooooo" in exasperation, deploring his estate to not find any other "buried treasures."

The second story, you can see flashes of his brilliance, word play that will make you smile, but as the novella is unfinished you will wind up saying what was the point of reading it except as a last goodbye to one of your favorite authors.

If you have to read it go to the library and if you have to add it to your collection wait 3 months and buy it for a penny. I hope this is it and his estate leaves his legacy intact so no further damage can be done.

1 1/2 stars
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Time Capsule Between Covers 21 Nov. 2012
By Viewing Wife and Mom - Published on
You must read this book because it exposes a lifetime of writing development in one reading. This is a clever publication. It starts with Vonnegut's very first novella, and it then gives you a parcel of what became of an incomplete last work before his death. The difference in style and subject matter, pace and purpose, wit, is HUGE and delightful. I hope you will enjoy this experience as much as I have.

You will gain a new appreciation for seasons and the time that life gives us to mature.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weak 23 Feb. 2014
By JBP - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This should have never been printed except for students writing a thesis on Vonnegut perhaps. The early story didn't hold up very well and the final work was never finished so it left me hanging.
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