5
VONNEGUT’S
1990s:
Autobiography and the Novel

As a major American author still happy and healthy and writing for an appreciative readership in his seventies, Kurt Vonnegut spent the 1990s enjoying himself. There were still a few periods of depression, and even more of exhaustion; he’d often complain that he’d done a lifetime’s worth of work and was ready to go home. But he’d always bounce back, engaging as ever. His autobiographical collage, Fates Worse Than Death (1991), is at once a deeper and more coherently written volume than is Palm Sunday. Bookending the decade are two other pleasurably self-attentive works, his collection of previously overlooked short fiction from the 1950s, Bagombo Snuff Box (1999), and the playfully outrageous accounts on postdeath experiences filed as a “reporter on the afterlife” for WNYC radio in New York, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999). Yet, if these three works can be considered self-indulgences, the term does not yet exist to describe Timequake, except the one Kurt Vonnegut used to convince his editor that it was something legitimate if radically sui generis. With only the slightest bit of critical help, he called this new book the autobiography of a novel.

Fates Worse Than Death presents an author confident of his art and comfortable with his stature. Several of its component essays had been drafted in the 1980s, when he’d been celebrating the power of art in his novels. For the new decade, however, he weaves these pieces into an integral whole, not just adding filler (as Vonnegut had described his method for Palm Sunday) but actively thinking about how each element fits into his life. Readers can make connections too, noting that, by answering an interviewer’s question that he’d like to die “In an airplane crash on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro” (15), the writer associates himself with Ernest Hemingway with regard to going out honorably, famously, and fittingly. Thus when an analysis of Hemingway and his work appears a few chapters later, the parallels Vonnegut draws with his

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Kurt Vonnegut's America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction - Vonnegut Released 1
  • 1 - Vonnegut’s 1950s- Human Structures 17
  • 2 - Vonnegut’s 1960s- Apocalypse Redone 40
  • 3 - Vonnegut’s 1970s- A Public Figure 63
  • 4 - Vonnegut’s 1980s- Arts and Crafts 86
  • 5 - Vonnegut’s 1990s- Autobiography and the Novel 105
  • Conclusion - Vonnegut Uncaged 123
  • Bibliography 135
  • Index 137
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