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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And So It Goes...Into The Rubbish Bin, 10 Jan. 2012
This review is from: And So It Goes (Hardcover)
Someone had to be first out of the gate and publish a semi-full-length biography upon the heels of Vonnegut's death, no? And so it cannot be helped that this book feels under-researched. Details about someone like Vonnegut take many years after death to creep out of the woodwork and become satisfactorily added to the overall puzzle that is anyone's mortal life. Family members, business cohorts, friends and friends of friends have yet to pen their memoirs of Kurt, or at the very least be thoroughly interviewed.

The ickiest aspect of this book is the glaring emotional fact that the biographer does not "get" Vonnegut's books. He doesn't understand them nor has he ever been truly moved by them. He doesn't recognize them as soul-affirming, heart-opening, mind medicines. He doesn't celebrate the humour of any of them nor does he even hint at being sympathetic or in agreement with their overall philosophical conclusions and prescriptions. This biography contains no enthusiasm or love for the work---and even less for the man.

The biographer seems to have slanted the overall picture of Vonnegut so that he appears as a mostly insecure, womanising, sad, old, grouchy worrywart who didn't hug his children all that much.

I don't believe that picture.

There's also this very silly idea that there was some sort of crowd in this world who presumed he was some sort of saint or guru expected to be a dream-daddy-husband who never lost his temper or worried or felt overwhelmed or got depressed. That impression was just a load of turds perpetuated by magazine articles and preamble interview-related descriptions of who Kurt Vonnegut supposedly was to the "youth" of America. But the fact is nobody expected the Kurt Vonnegut they loved to be anything more than an old fart smoking his fool head off and writing books that amuse and touch the heart. Honestly!

He was a man whose mum killed herself on friggin' Mothers Day whilst he was there visiting as an adult soldier, not long before he was due to go to Dresden. He was a man who saw and touched countless dead human beings in various states of destruction and decay---human beings intentionally killed with malice aforethought by other human beings...

I'd much rather have a flippant, Absurdist, hi-ho attitude and humour towards such horrors than be emotionally crushed by them into a thousand mile stare.

Vonnegut's best books are pure philosophy in the form of humorous narratives. Vonnegut was an American philosopher. His main question was: What are people for? This is the same as asking: Why do I exist? Am I supposed to measure up to some sort of grade? Is this life a punishment? Is it a school? Can I kill myself without an after-death punishment? How did I get here? Is there a singular conscious entity called God responsible for my existence? If not, can living things still exist? What happens when I die?

Vonnegut lived during a time in human history when it would have been considered pretentious of him to refer to himself (or even think of himself) as a philosopher given that he did not posses a university degree in Philosophy and did not write about his philosophical quests, conclusions and prescriptions in a scholarly format. But in writing the way he did, he reached a wider audience. Academia would have forbade his humour and irreverence and thank goodness they didn't get a chance to.

To his credit, the biographer announces at the start of the book that he did not receive any cooperation from Vonnegut's 2nd wife.

The two results of this are:

---#1---Zero information from a person who lived with him and knew him for over 30 years---a spouse no less. She's a primary colour in the finished painting and her perspective and memories are sorely missing.

---#2---The biographer seems to convey snide undertones virtually anytime he refers to her. She comes off as little more than a one dimensional villain---a nasty thorn in Kurt's side.

For an authorized biography I am shocked by the lame, uninteresting quality of most of the photos.

I am disappointed that there is no list of every radio and tv show he appeared on.
There is no list of every interview he gave.
There are no photocopies of manuscript pages.
A biographer who truly loves his subject would have provided these things.

The bibliography for Kurt's appearances in magazines and newspapers is quite user unfriendly. It's not an easy-to-read list of one appearance per line but instead the info is all crammed together in paragraphs---one entry after another. I clear my throat and spit.

All in all, after reading this book from cover to cover, I hardly know more about Kurt Vonnegut than what I gleaned from his Prologues, interviews, and non fiction books.

I can only logically and generously assume that this biography was rushed. I doubt it began that way, but when Kurt kicked the bucket there must've been pressure from the publisher to pull the cake out of the oven even though it was only half baked. But then I sincerely wonder if Mr Shields would have ever been able to write a 1st class biography on Vonnegut given that he didn't really "get" Vonnegut to begin with. You can just feel it.

Sorry, dude. Write what you bloody well know or don't bother.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Apr 2012, 18:25:04 BST

In reply to an earlier post on 23 May 2012, 22:44:21 BST
Bow Wow!

Posted on 25 Aug 2016, 20:19:24 BST
Superb review.
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