Thursday, April 12, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Vonnegut

Well, it's happened. My favorite living author is no longer eligible for the category. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died overnight from complications of a brain injury that resulted from a fall a few weeks back. He was the most influential author in my past and an idiosyncratic visionary the likes of which we will never see again.

Vonnegut was a member of "The Greatest Generation," but one that bucked the trends. He was, at times, a socialist, an iconoclast, a visionary, and a prophet. He was unafraid to speak out and challenge the status quo, even when he was in total agreement with it. He wrote about the value and the vagueries of the human spirit in prose that embodied the hopelessness of a future in chaos.

Sort of a Marxist Jules Verne on acid, Vonnegut was never happy with anything and yet seemed cautiously joyful at all times. He made a mark, in his later years, giving brilliant commencement speeches at some of the finest universities in the land. As he grew older, it became tougher and tougher to fictionalize his thoughts (as if his fiction was ever all that fictional).

I remember Vonnegut from my first encounter with his first work, Player Piano. Here was an author, well, at the time he was just an average guy putting pen to paper, who just seemed to ramble on and stumble over plot in such a haphazard, yet consistently humorous, entertaining and engaging way. His books read like my thoughts; they gave hope to the lunatic fringe in all of us. He was Ernest Hemmingway for the non-machismo set.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has been my literary hero and my teacher. I will forever be indebted for the example of freedom and bravery he blazed across the literary landscape. There's more length and depth and breadth to Vonnegut than I can subsume here. I'd ask, in the memory of this great writer, that you explore the world of Kurt Vonnegut. You will not be disappointed.

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