Two books recently out reassess Kurt Vonnegut’s personal and social legacies. Book by book, “Unstuck in Time” chronicles the unintentional development of the man’s political life, while “And So It Goes,” a straightforward biography, adjusts his popular, fanciful image as a grandfatherly saint with accounts of alcoholism, cruelty and resentment of his professional peers. —ARK
In These Times:
In Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels (Seven Stories, November), Gregory Sumner documents, novel by novel, spanning 1952 (Player Piano) to 1997 (Timequake), how Vonnegut developed as both a writer and touchstone for reform. The reformist role began without intent, slowly building until Vonnegut accepted and sometimes even embraced it. Near the end of his life, even as he stopped publishing fiction meant to influence readers’ worldviews, Vonnegut spoke out publicly against powerful people who were subverting democratic government. He told anybody who would listen how George W. Bush had entered the White House by mounting “the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops style coup d’état imaginable,” and that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were “psychopathic personalities” who intended to disconnect “all the burglar alarms prescribed by the Constitution” as they expanded executive power.
… It’s [And So It Goes] no hagiography, revealing Vonnegut as often self-centered, sometimes downright mean and seemingly forgetful about his privileged life growing up. Shields explains how Vonnegut treated his first wife poorly after more than two decades of marriage. He could come across as an uninterested and sometimes insensitive father. He often drank to excess. Vonnegut sometimes demonstrated meanness to reviewers and other writers who did not seem to adequately appreciate his accomplishments. However, And So It Goes is also rich with examples of Vonnegut’s generosity, such as helping rear four children whose parents (Vonnegut’s sister and brother-in-law) both died young.
Editor’s note: This item originally began, “Two books recently out take a stab at shaping Kurt Vonnegut’s personal and social legacies.” We changed it after receiving a complaint in the comments below. No insult was intended to the authors of the highlighted books.