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Friday, April 13, 2007

Remembering Kurt Vonnegut

Author Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday in New York at the age of 84. I've read and enjoyed several of his novels, including Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle. He also made an amusing little cameo in the otherwise forgettable Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School. He will be missed.

What came to my mind first on hearing about his death, was his description of the character Billy Pilgrim's death in Slaughterhouse Five. In that story, Billy has become "unstuck" in time and bounces between different events in his life. At one point he is abducted from Earth and put on display in a zoo by the aliens of Tralfamador. There he learns about the Tralfamadorian's different sense of time -- seeing all events past, present and future as occurring at once. It is with that perspective in mind that he recounts his own death not as an ending but as just one piece in the ever unfolding story of his life.

So it is that Mr. Vonnegut's death is made less sad by the wonderful works of fiction he left us to keep his memory and keen insight alive.

Here's a blurb from the story on his passing from Thursday's New York Times:

Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture’s Novelist, Dies
by Dinitia Smith

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat’s Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. ...

Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

Read the full article

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