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R.i.p. Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007: Novelist of dark comic talent and moral vision




NEW YORK -- Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels such as "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat's Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died Wednesday night in New York. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.


His death was reported by Morgan Entrekin, a longtime family friend, who said Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.


Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and '70s.


Like Mark Twain, Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence and, like Twain, had a profound pessimism. "Mark Twain," Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, "Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage," "finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died."


His novels -- 14 in all -- were alternate universes, populated by races of his own creation, such as the interdimensional Tralfamadorians, and made-up religions, such as the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and Bokononism.


The defining moment of Vonnegut's life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event he witnessed as a prisoner of war. Thousands of civilians were killed in the raids, many of them burned to death or asphyxiated.


The raid was the basis of "Slaughterhouse-Five," which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval. The novel, wrote the critic Jerome Klinkowitz, "so perfectly caught America's transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age."


To Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," summed up his philosophy:


"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' "




Vonnegut eschewed traditional structure and punctuation. His books were a mixture of fiction and autobiography, prone to one-sentence paragraphs, exclamation points and italics.


Graham Greene called him "one of the most able of living American writers." Some critics said he had invented a new literary type, infusing the science-fiction form with humor and moral relevance and elevating it to serious literature.


He was also accused of repeating himself, of recycling themes and characters. His harshest critics called him no more than a comic book philosopher, a purveyor of empty aphorisms.


His first novel was "Player Piano," published in 1952, a satire on corporate life. It was followed in 1959 by "The Sirens of Titan," a science fiction novel featuring the Church of God of the Utterly Indifferent.


His last book, in 2005, was a collection of biographical essays, "A Man Without a Country." It, too, was a best-seller.


Godspeed, you crazy bastard.

Edited by MuttersomeTaxicab
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i got the phone call first thing in the morning so i told my mom and my sister and they gave me hugs.



edit: i really thought this thread would be bigger. i really loved him as an author and i guess i always thought there were others who loved him that much. maybe just not here.

Edited by josiegross
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Jasmine, I think it really depends on one's literary leanings. I read his stuff in HS...SL5 for a class and that turned me on to him, leading me to his other work. I remember seeing that Rodney Dangerfield movie "Back To School" in the theatre, and being profoundly aware that no one else in the theatre got the joke, or even recognized him.


Most Authors continue to write even into their old age...I know we haven't heard the last of him. He mentioned in an interview that he'd written a great deal of things that had never been released.

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