The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut

The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut

The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut

The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut

Synopsis

Kurt Vonnegut's career as a novelist encompasses virtually the whole second half of the twentieth century, and his novels are among the most widely read in America. Yet Vonnegut enjoyed another successful career as a short story writer. His short fiction brought him much acclaim in the early years of his writing career and made him visible to a very large audience. His stories were illustrated by some of the best artists in the business and were featured prominently in leading magazines such as Collier's, the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and Argosy. By examining Vonnegut's short fiction, this study illuminates his development as an author and contributes to a better understanding of the entire canon of his works.

Excerpt

Kurt Vonnegut's career as a novelist encompasses virtually the whole second half of the twentieth century. He stands as one of America's longest-publishing and most widely read novelists. Film, television, and theatrical productions have been made from his books. Yet Vonnegut enjoyed another career in fiction that these days goes almost unnoted, that of a short story writer. One of the ironies of the present obscurity of this phase of his career is that at the time it made him highly visible to a very large audience. His stories, illustrated by some of the best artists in that business, were featured prominently in such wide-circulation magazines as Collier, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and Argosy.

Commentary on Kurt Vonnegut has tended to perpetuate this separation between two careers. Most critics have felt free to talk about Vonnegut the novelist while setting aside the short stories, as I did myself in the first book- length study of this writer. But I have come to think increasingly that to do so means to impose an artificial compartmentalization upon the body of his work. The short fiction merits consideration in part because there is where he learned and practiced many of the skills and techniques also employed in the novels. At the same time, however, it is not accurate to see the short stories simply as preceding the novels; there is an extensive period of overlap. More than that, it is possible to see the techniques and the impulses of the short story writer continuing on even into the most recent novels. To examine successive manuscripts of one longer work is to see the short fiction content--that is, the vignetttes, the parables, the comic episodes--survive from one version to the next within substantially changed contexts.

So one cannot simply regard Kurt Vonnegut as having had one incarnation as a short story writer and another as a novelist, as has been the tendency. And if "he child is father to the man," one should look back also to those apprentice years as a high school and college journalist where Vonnegut learned writing and made it a part of his daily life. This book does that, attempting by paying attention to these all-too-often overlooked parts of Vonnegut's work to contribute to seeing his canon completely and with better understanding.

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