How It Went

Christopher Buckley in the New York Times Book Review:

Buckley-popupKurt Vonnegut died in 2007, but one gets the sense from Charles J. Shields’s sad, often heartbreaking biography, “And So It Goes,” that he would have been happy to depart this vale of tears sooner. Indeed, he did try to flag down Charon the Ferryman and hitch a ride across the River Styx in 1984 (pills and booze), only to be yanked back to life and his marriage to the photographer Jill Krementz, which, in these dreary pages, reads like a version of hell on earth. But then Vonnegut’s relations with women were vexed from the start. When he was 21, his mother successfully committed suicide — on Mother’s Day.

It’s a truism that comic artists tend to hatch from tragic eggs. But as Vonnegut, the author of zesty, felicitous sci-fi(esque) novels like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Sirens of Titan” and “Breakfast of Champions” might put it, “So it goes.”

Vonnegut’s masterpiece was “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the novelistic account of being present at the destruction of Dresden by firebombing in 1945. Between that horror (his job as a P.O.W. was to stack and burn the corpses); the mother’s suicide; the early death of a beloved sister, the only woman he seems truly to have loved; serial unhappy marriages; and his resentment that the literary establishment really considered him (just) a writer of juvenile and jokey pulp fiction, Vonnegut certainly earned his status as Man of Sorrows, much as Mark Twain, to whom he is often compared, earned his.

Was Kurt Vonnegut, in fact, just that — a writer one falls for in high school and college and then puts aside, like one of St. Paul’s “childish things,” for sterner stuff?

More here.

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