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Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and misdemeanors in government—and in the heart. This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F. Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to the penitentiary as Watergate’s least known co-conspirator. But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and calculated greed of the mighty, giving a razor-sharp edge to an unforgettable portrait of power and politics in our times.


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@She believed, and was entitled to believe, I must say, that all human beings were evil by nature, whether tormentors or victims, or idle standers-by. [...] We were a disease, she said, which had evolved on one tiny cinder in the universe, but could spread and spread.@

I am ambivalent about Kurt Vonneguts Jailbird (1979). On the one hand the author pushes many of my hot buttons and I agree with his choices of human failings to lampoon - human race as a disease affecting the universe is a brilliant metaphor - but on the other, the diagnoses and solutions he offers are way too simplistic and naive. There are some brilliant passages in the novel but many others are ridiculous, childish, or just plain silly.

Jailbird can be divided into two, quite disjoint parts. The first is a memoir of one Walter F. Starbuck, the son of a Polish chauffeur and a Lithuanian cook working for an American millionaire. Thanks to his parents employers sponsorship Mr. Starbuck graduates from Harvard, but then - during the grim days of the Depression - he becomes a Communist. Much later he is interrogated by Richard Nixon himself during congressional committee hearings. The future president remembers him and Starbuck obtains a job in Nixons White House, as a Special Advisor on Youth. He becomes one of the scapegoats in the Watergate affair and goes to prison.

I find the first part realistic, almost @[email protected], and captivating. Vonnegut focuses on the issues of labor movement in the US. He writes:
@Labor history was pornography of a sort in those days, and even more so in these days. In public schools and in the homes of nice people it was and remains pretty much taboo to tell tales of labors sufferings and [email protected]
One of the most dramatic fragments of the novel is the depiction of the fictitious Cuyahoga Massacre where the soldiers killed fourteen protesting workers of the Cuyahoga Bridge and Iron, wounded scores of others, and - the worst of all (sarcasm!) - caused serious stutter in Mr. Starbucks future employer. Another dramatic fragment depicts the factual story of executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, anarchists convicted of murder, but guilty only of @dangerous radical [email protected]

The novels second, present-time part that begins on the day of Starbucks release from prison is a sort of fantasy tale:
@This is just the dream of a jailbird. Its not supposed to make [email protected]
Here we encounter The RAMJAC Corporation that owns 19% of the entire wealth of the United States and the story focuses on Mr. Starbucks connections with the mysterious Mrs. Graham who is the majority stockholder. I am not enthusiastic about that part of the novel, not only because I dislike fantasy in literature, but mainly because it dissolves the stronger message of the novels @[email protected] part. Although I burst out laughing over the hilarious commentary on the average American level of literacy: Vonnegut writes about an invention needed in the times when @it was getting harder all the time to find employees who understood numbers [email protected]: images of products are put on the keys of a cash register rather than numbers.

Vonneguts trademark sarcastic view of humanity is made clear by the numerous references to the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of teachings attributed to Jesus Christ in which he predicts that the poor in spirit would receive the Kingdom of Heaven, the meek will inherit the Earth, that the merciful will be treated mercifully, and so on. I wonder why the author does not quote the most striking phrase from the Sermon: @You cannot serve God and [email protected] because @no one can serve two [email protected] Would the author be not bold enough to say that capitalism and Christianity cannot coexist?

Infuriatingly uneven work by the author of the great
Slaughterhouse-Five
. Here Vonnegut editorializes way too much and does not let the power of his fiction speak for itself. The beautiful passages about Starbucks wife and his girlfriend virtually disappear buried deep in well-meant yet inept propaganda.

Two and a half stars.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
Prefaced with the well-known premise “against stupidity even the gods contend in vain” (xii), and notes thereafter that “labor history was pornography of a sort” in the early 20th century (xviii). Narrative arises out of a fictional moment of labor history, the fabricated “Cuyahoga Massacre” in Cleveland, 1894 (xxi). Narrator is raised by one of the industrialist villains who authored the massacre, and becomes a big commie, and later ends up in prison several times for stupid things, such as being a tertiary Watergate thug.

That’s the story, I suppose—but one doesn’t read V for story, of course; it’s all about the observations along the way, such as: militias “represented an American ideal: healthy, cheerful, citizen soldiers” (xxvi), “utopian” (xxvii), but “worse than useless on battlefields” (id.).

Narrator was “a radical at Harvard,” “cochairman of the Harvard chapter of the Young Communist League” (13) (that’s a Stalinist outfit, FYI). After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, however, “I became a cautious believer in capitalistic democracy again” (id.). Despite this, dude ends up as Nixon’s youth affairs advisor. He wrote many unread memos, all of which boiled down to: “Young people still refuse to see the obvious impossibility of world disarmament and economic equality” (15).

V writes with a subtle rhetorical power, such as when he describes the post-war plans of narrator’s wife, a survivor of the Third Reich’s camps: “to roam alone and out-of-doors forever, from nowhere to nowhere in a demented sort of religious ecstasy. ‘No one ever touches me,’ she said, ‘and I never touch anyone. I am like a bird in flight. It is so beautiful. There is only God—and me’” (21). But in earthy contradiction with that ethereal image, “there was no movement or sound she made that was not at least accidentally flirtatious” (24).

Dude gives his wife probably the best wedding gift of which I’ve ever heard: “a wood carving […] it depicted hands of an old person pressed together in prayer. It was a three-dimensional rendering of a drawing by Albrecht Durer” (28).

@Durer’s

Narrator is scolded for denouncing comrades to HUAAC with “The most important thing they teach at Harvard […] is that a man can obey every law and still be the worst criminal of his time” (75).

Definitions, V-style: twerp = “a person, if I may be forgiven, who bit the bubbles of his own farts in the bathtub” (110); jerk = “a person who masturbated too much” (id.).

Narrator notes the “tens of thousands of [shopping bag ladies]” loose in the US, “ragged regiments of them,”
produced accidentally, and to no imaginable purpose, by the great engine of the economy. Another part of the machine was spitting out unrepentant murderers ten years old, and dope fiends and child batterers and many other bad things. (140)
Reasonable persons were “As sick about all these tragic by-products of the economy as they would have been about human slavery” (id).

Overall, as normal for V: committed, witty, smart. Most bizarre thing is that the novel has an index. The hell?

Recommended for irony collectors, fanatical monks in the service of war, persons baptized Roman Catholic but who aspire to indifference, and readers who are pure phlogiston.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
This was another disappointing novel, Vonneguts second in a row, and given the gaps between his three novels of the 70s, it certainly raised some questions about whether he had passed his prime. It could be argued that, indeed, he had. Which is no crime for a writer who had produced a body of work like that which he published during the late 50s through the first half of the 70s. And, to be fair, @[email protected] is far from a total disaster. Vonneguts weaker work was still topped the best that some authors could muster.

@[email protected] suffers from many of the opposite flaws as its predecessor, @[email protected] Whereas @[email protected] had been disjointed and meandering, @[email protected] was ploddingly linear. Whereas @S[email protected] had been wildly fantastic, incorporating many elements of science fiction, @[email protected] attempted a mundane realism (not unlike Vonneguts first novel, @Player [email protected]) which did not play to the authors strengths. Whereas @[email protected] left far too many loose threads, @[email protected] made too great an effort to tie every thread up in a nice, neat bow. In many ways, it was everything that @[email protected] had not been, but if Vonnegut had shifted to the opposite extreme with the intention of ameliorating the weaknesses inherent in his previous novel, he probably pushed too far.

One thing the two novels do have in common: they both end with a whimper. Although the climax of @[email protected] is easier to pinpoint, the epilogue feels like an afterthought, and a somewhat impotent one at that.

Two other flaws are probably worth noting. First, Vonnegut inexplicably resurrects the character of Kilgore Trout, but does so in such a way that it diminishes the character, as already established. In short, he attempts what we today would refer to as a @[email protected] of the character, and it does not work well. In addition, whereas in past works Vonneguts digressions into the stories of Trout had often managed to be seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative, here they just feel like tacked on filler.

Second, and arguably more significant, is the lack of a clear moral. Vonnegut had, up to this point, always centered his novels around a moral -- or at least a clearly identifiable theme. In @[email protected] there is no such clear central message. Now, it could be argued that moralizing is not -- should not -- be the job of a novelist. But Vonneguts social commentaries had always benefited from this emphasis on a singular truth, something which @[email protected] never quite manages. There are allusions to time as an antagonist, and fairly late in the novel he calls into question the capriciousness of our economy. But a clear, singular message never emerges.

None of this detracts from the genuine belly laughs which bubble to the surface from time to time. Even at his most seemingly apathetic, Vonnegut is still uproariously funny, if only sporadically here. Thus, fans of his work will still find much of value in these pages, but those looking for an introduction to the mans novels should certainly start elsewhere.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
W powieściach Vonneguta zauważalna jest jedna dość charakterystyczna cecha. Większość jego książek posiada senną atmosferę, z której przebija się pewna postawa obojętności do świata. Obojętności, która jest wyczuwalna wśród cech jego bohaterów lub nie wprost wyłania się ona z samej struktury stworzonego przez niego świata. Podobnie jest w tym przypadku: główny bohater Walter Starbuck jest wręcz klasycznym tego przykładem. Sama powieść przenosi nas do czasów rządów Nixona oraz słynnej w stanach afery Watergate. Atmosfera biurowców przesiąkniętych dymem tytoniowym, brutalnego kapitalizmu tłamszącego klasę robotniczą oraz ogromnych korporacji. Jest to jednakże jedna ze słabszych powieści Vonneguta, jaką czytałem. Niemniej jednak warto do niej zajrzeć w przypadku, gdy ktoś już wcześniej czytał jakieś jego powieści, w innym polecałbym zacząć od chociażby „Rzeźni numer pięć”.
In Vonnegut’s stories we can spot one very characteristic feature. Most of his books has calm and even drowsy atmosphere from which emanate very indifferent kind of perceiving the world. This indifference we can feel in the characters created by Vonnegut or we can feel it simply in his writing style. We can see this in the figure of Walter Starbucks who is a classical Vonnegut’s character in this sense. The main story is located in the times of Nixon, the Watergate scandal in USA. The atmosphere of corporation offices saturated with a smoke of cigarettes, brute capitalism destroying the lives of simple workers, large corporations ruling over the world. But this is at the same time one of the worst Vonnegut’s books that I have read. So if you have read some of his works it’s worth to take a shot but if you just want to start reading Vonnegut I would recommend trying something else such as “Slaughterhouse five”.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
you cant just eat food, he said. youve to talk about it, too. and youve got the talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.
s.105

the walls of the little entrance hall were covered with blue ribbons from horse shows before the crash. i see you have won a lot of blue ribbons, i said.
no, she said, it was the horses that won those.
s.112

beautiful is such a funny thing to be, said sarah. somebody else is ugly, but im beautiful. walter says im beautiful. you say im beautiful. i say im beautiful. everybody says, @beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,@ and you start wondering what it is, and whats so wonderful about it.
s.118

i think everbody older just pretends to know whats going on, that its all so serious and wonderful, said sarah. older people havent found out anything new that i dont know. maybe if people didnt get so serious when they got older, we wouldnt have a depression now.
s.118

her nose was broken, which was where the blood had come from. there were worse things wrong with her. i can not name them. no inventory was ever taken of everything that was broken in mary kathleen.
s.214

its all right, she said. you couldnt help it that you were born without a heart. at least you tried to believe what the people with hearts believed - so you were a good man just the same.
s.218

so i elected to complain about our levity. you know what is finally going to kill this planet? i said.
cholesterol! said frank ubriaco.
a total lack of seriousness, i said. nobody gives a damn anymore about whats really going on, whats going to happen next, or how we ever got into such a mess in the first place.
s.234

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