13 April 2007

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut has passed away.

I received this news on a night that was already dismal, and the news of his passing brought tears to my eyes. Many of us have read at least a few of his books, probably Slaughterhouse-5 or Cat's Cradle or Welcome to the Monkey House. Some of us have read more. I mentioned his death yesterday at my job to one of the cooks, who was unfamiliar with Mr. Vonnegut’s work, and it led me to think: Why was he so important?

Right off of the bat, I’d have to say that Vonnegut was the single biggest influence on my writing that I’ve encountered. Trained as a public relations man, he understood about getting to the point. He didn’t write a lot of flowery pose, and his characters generally talked like people, without great flourishes or grandiose speeches. His books were deceptively easy to read, which led some to dismiss his work as simplistic.

That was not the case.

I made a short film in college based on his short story “The Big Space Fuck.” When I first thought of the idea, I just thought it’d be funny to base a film on a story he wrote as a laugh (it was the first published story to feature the word ‘fuck’ in a title), but as I tried to explain the story to my fellow students, it became apparent to me that this silly story about firing a rocket full of ‘jism’ into space had more layers than an onion. He had the ability to compress metaphor and subtext into a form that made it apparent if you were looking and unobtrusive if you weren’t.

The fist book I read by him was, I believe, Slaughterhouse-5. I read the book in hours (like most of his books, it’s pretty short), went to the used bookstore in the next couple of days, bought perhaps another six or seven of his books, and read them all within days. It took a couple of weeks to work my way though all of his books, but by now I’ve probably reread his books hundreds of times.

Not only do I respect the man for his secular humanistic views (a stance that has become more and more rare), for his basic decency (he adopted his sister’s children after she died young), or his humor, but the fact that he was able to convey such a friendliness in his words. He just seemed to be the type of guy you could have a beer and a smoke with, shoot the shit about any number of topics, and feel like he was listening. I bet he was a great listener.

God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut. You’ve brought so much joy and creativity to my life. I can only hope that one day I’ll do you proud.

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