on 11 July 2005
Kurt Vonnegut's ability to interweave characters and experiences and his ability to quantify throw away events does little to mask his genius. His books should be read in as few sittings as possible if only to ensure a thread of narrative isn't dismissed as superfluous storytelling. In Dead Eye Dick, Kurt explores the loss of innocence. The act that initiates the narrators loss ensures redemption is only a flight of fancy. Kurt's ability to create a perfect narrative arc places the titles main event after the reader has inadvertently judged the main character by the preceding narrative. The double homicide leading to the narrators association with the books title is horrific and tragic in equal measure. Kurt explores the structure of unfortunate associations and out of date political ideals and blends with the act of childish curiosity to rustle up a series of truly unfortunate events. The horrific event has the ability to reach out and change all associated with the main character. Kurt uses pin sharp satire and the blackest of humour across a wide range of supplementary characters and events to illustrate a gamut of sociological and psychological oddities. Each character in the book comes with a complete insight into their character. The characters are inventive and highly individual, opportunities to characterize another viewpoint is never wasted, from the Haitian voodoo priest hotelier to the amphetamine ravaged first love, all come with there stories to tell and lessons to learn. Kurt's books always fill the reader with a sense of optimism, whether it be from gained enlightenment or from the gentle reminders to ensure life does ebb away with the routine actions of every day working life. To ensure we are not living out the epilogue of a great story before the great story was told.
on 18 May 2012
Published in 1982, Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut tells the story of Rudy Waltz, in a tale of guilt and self-reflection. The tone of it is incredibly quirky. It brought to mind the deliberate, no-nonsense narration in Mark Haddon's 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - a book narrated by an autistic boy who refuses to use metaphors or similes because he considers them "lies". The tone suggests Rudy's intense detachment from his emotions, and his inability to empathise and deal with the emotions of others. When things seem to get a little too much for Rudy to cope with, he reels off a recipe to the reader as a distraction. The parts of the book which are emotionally charged are literally transformed into a stage play. In a latter part of the novel, for example, Rudy recalls the details of a funeral, but in order to tell it he finds it necessary to script it out the scene with stage directions and notes about scenery, even spending quite a while discussing the logistics of getting a hearse into a theatre and onto a stage.
The core of Deadeye Dick's narrative is hinged around a key moment in which the narrator and protagonist, the aforementioned Rudy Waltz, unwittingly shoots a pregnant woman, killing her and her unborn child. As Rudy observes in the first chapter: "That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes." Because of this horrible mistake, Rudy sees himself from this point as living out the epilogue in the story of his life. He describes himself as being a "neuter", in the sense that he works nights in a pharmacy, forgoes personal and sexual relationships and tries his utmost to bob along the stream of life unmoved and unnoticed by those around him - the only thing he gives himself credit for in his life is being a good cook. The knowledge that he is known in his town by the nickname "Deadeye Dick" is a perpetual preoccupation in his mind.
Vonnegut's storytelling usually reveals the key events of a plot from the outset, to let the reader know that plot is secondary and that most important things to consider are characterisation and the ideas explored within. For example, in Deadeye Dick, the facts that Rudy Waltz shot a woman unwittingly, and that the setting for the story, Midland City, is accidently wiped out by a neutron bomb in transit between two military bases, would be kept from the reader until a suitably dramatic point in the narrative by most authors: not Vonnegut. In fact, these key events are more symbolic than dramatic, allowing the reader not to be bogged-down by events and contemplate the layers of meaning that Vonnegut weaves.
As a preamble to the main story, Rudy outlines the biography of his father - a man who had inherited a vast fortune and spent the first half of his adult life as a failed artist (he had no talent as an artist, nor did he make steps to improve). He noted that his father was rejected from the School of Vienna on the same day as Adolf Hitler, and in an act of protest against the professors of the school, his father offered an extravagant price for one of Hitler's paintings in front of the professors, and the two became good friends. His father later became Midland City's only card-carrying Nazi, and from the late 1920s until the late 30s, a Nazi flag was hoisted on the roof of his house. Rudy's mother always seemed to be in another room, both physically and metaphorically, relying on servants to bring up her two children (the older of whom, Felix, became the head of American TV network NBC). As the story progresses, we see how a single life-defining mistake causes his father and mother to lose everything: their wealth; their home; and their lives as they knew them.
Vonnegut is surely the master of the simple line that just seems to speak of some deep undeniable truth. "Beauty seldom comes cheap" is one such line, and as an appreciator of fine art, the sentiment couldn't ring more true. And perhaps my favourite line, mainly for its nihilistic philosophical insight, was scrawled on the wall of a toilet cubicle:
"To be is to do - Socrates.
To do is to be - Jean-Paul Sartre.
Do be do be do -Frank Sinatra."
I have read three other novels by Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse 5, Breakfast of Champions and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Of these titles, Deadeye Dick is certainly the weakest. Throughout the text there are references and allusions to the events and characters of his previous works (though my favourite literary character, Kilgour Trout, was unfortunately absent). I love this about Vonnegut: his stories are like jigsaw pieces that occasionally connect and reward you for taking an interest in his body of work, but it's done in such a way that if you hadn't read any other works, you wouldn't even notice that another work was being alluded to at all. The only trouble with this inter-textuality, is that it just reminded of how fantastic Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse 5 are when compared to Deadeye Dick. If Deadeye Dick had been the only work produced by Kurt Vonnegut, it would stand on its own as an excellent work of literature, but within the context of Vonnegut's body of work it pales in comparison.
At its best, Deadeye Dick is a thought-provoking work that raises many fundamental questions about what makes a life meaningful and the nature of guilt. If you have never read any of Vonnegut's work, I would recommend that you read Slaughterhouse 5.
Deadeye Dick is a novel only Kurt Vonnegut could have written – quirky, strange, thought-provoking, and a little bit depressing. The story of Deadeye Dick and his family is not a happy one. Rudy Waltz acquires his unusual nickname at the age of twelve by accidentally killing a woman in his hometown, but the whole story starts well before Rudy was even born. His father was supposedly a promising artist, or at least his own mother thought so, but he and his painting tutor did little more than travel around getting drunk and carousing with women of ill repute; after the tutor was exposed as a sham, Otto Waltz went to Austria to study in the years before the Great War; his lack of talent forbade him entry to the Academy, and he developed a friendship with another failed artist who later became chancellor of the Third Reich. This association with Hitler and some of his ideas would come back to haunt Otto in the 1940s. Rudy was Otto’s second son, and on the day when his father bestowed upon him the key to the gun room, Rudy took a rifle up to the top of the cupola at his family’s most unusual residence, fired it randomly, and unknowingly shot a pregnant woman right between the eyes while she was vacuuming – thus did Rudy receive the nickname Deadeye Dick. His father insisted on making a production about how everything was his fault, and life would never be the same again for the dysfunctional Waltz family. They lost everything, and life got little better as Rudy matured. The story of Deadeye Dick and his family goes on to include such events as a decapitation, a death by chimney (it was made of radioactive cement), and the eventual death of everyone in the whole town by way of an accidental neutron bomb explosion. There is a lot of symbolism in the book, and Vonnegut’s discussion of what certain symbols mean in the introduction is particularly helpful in understanding this novel (although I’m still a little unsure about the random inclusion of recipes throughout the story). One experiences a definite lack of closure upon completing this fascinating read, and that inevitably disappoints some readers, including myself to some degree, but I don’t think any can deny the fact that Deadeye Dick offers a typically Vonnegut-like interpretation of life and offers much food for thought to the serious reader.
on 25 July 2012
This book is another peace of art from Kurt. As usual, he is comic, tragic, funny, sad, ironic, creative, cynic, clever, etc,etc,etc.
Kurt is simple one of the best and this book, one of his best too.
Well done Kurt !
on 19 May 2014
I loved reading this and read it incredibly quickly in just a couple of sittings. The novel relates the story of Rudy Waltz, his bizarre family (parents like the living dead, brother who is always on the lookout for the next ex-wife) and the town they live in. The town itself, Midtown, is as much a character and a commentary on the state of American life as any of the people in the book. Rudy, who has accidentally killed a pregnant woman whilst still a child himself, has to come to terms with himself, his guilt and the opinions of his community about him. There are some really powerful scenes in here - the descriptions of police brutality and innocence awakened were brilliant; as were the matters pertaining to America's gun laws - but dealt with so deftly, with such a comic touch. Like all Vonnegut, the more comedy there is in a scene, the greater the tragedy it is trying to portray. I noted that one reviewer has said that this feels a little dated now due to the Cold War references in the book - I can't agree I'm afraid. Governments STILL have this dreadful tendency to dismiss ordinary people as unimportant, as possessing lives "so boring and ungifted and small time that they could be slain by the tens of thousands without inspiring any long-term regrets on the part of anyone." One only has to look at what's going on in the world and how disposable the populace seems to be in Governments' eyes (think those little girls abducted from school in Nigeria and the government fails to act for days and days; a Turkish mine disaster because government don't care enough to insist on the correct safety procedures; the Russians' manipulation of the populace in the Ukraine in order to regain territory - and that's just to cite three examples which spring readily to mind). Vonnegut is an incredibly important writer in voicing the ordinary man - and he is such a joy to read. Like all Vonnegut, I can't recommend this one enough - if I give my sons one piece of advice it is to read Vonnegut - I'm sure his writing will be as relevant when they are grown up in fifteen years or so time, than he is still today.
on 25 October 2013
Firstly, this is NOT Science Fiction.In fact, I don't know what it is or what it is supposed to be, other than pretentious prattle. I read the first few pages, becoming slowly more baffled and bored. I then started skipping the odd page, then a few pages, then whole chapters, before abandoning it altogether! Perhaps I'm not doing it justice I hear you ask? Perhaps, but after reading that much I'd lost the will to live! I'm a retired old man but even I have better things to do!