Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Today: While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut

Late last year when the editors of January Magazine were musing about the ten most anticipated books of 2011, While Mortals Sleep (Delacorte) was high on the list. I would have gone further: I would have called it one of my must read books of the year. And why? For that stellar, questioning, much missed voice.

While I looked forward to reading this new collection, I did not have high hopes for it. While Mortals Sleep collects 16 early Vonnegut short stories, all unpublished. And when you hear a thing like that, you tend to wonder about the reason.

It was a pleasant surprise to find I really enjoyed most of what is collected here. Viewed in the context of the body of the author’s work, one wouldn’t need a date to place thse stories as proto-Vonnegut. They were written for publication at a time when the young writer was trying to make his living at his craft and selling stories to Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. These 16, however, never made the cut. As Dave Eggers points out in a foreword, “the way [Vonnegut] wrote at the time was influenced a certain amount by what he knew these publications wanted.” For whatever reasons, though, they didn’t want these. Again from the foreword:
These are what might be called mousetrap stories. This was once a popular ... form. But you don’t see it much anymore. We’re now in an age of what might be called photorealistic stories. What we have with most contemporary short stories is a realism, a naturalism, that gives us roughly what a photographer gives us.
But that’s not what Vonnegut was after at the time:
A mousetrap story exists to trick or trap the reader. It moves the reader along, through the complex (but not too complex) machinery of the story, until the end, when the cage is sprung and the reader is trapped.
This is a lighter, gentler Vonnegut than fans of novels like Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle will expect. While Mortals Sleep lacks the gritty darkness of the novels but, as Eggers points out, the stories in this collection have the “bright-eyed clarity of a young man just beginning to understand the workings of the world.”

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home