Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vonnegut Revealed: An Extraordinary Biography

In this painstakingly researched and loving biography of Kurt Vonnegut, Charles J. Shields paints a rich and balanced portrait of a very complicated author. Shields reveals Kurt Vonnegut as a conflicted and often contradictory human being, and sadly, in the end, a lonely and unhappy old man in this fascinating and highly readable look at his life.

I count Kurt Vonnegut among my favorite authors, since discovering Slaughterhouse Five in a college English course in the 1970's. Billy Pilgrim became my touchstone for understanding war-damaged friends and family, and Kurt Vonnegut became my guide to viewing humanity, progress and the insanity of war through new eyes. I had already discovered Twain and Thurber, but Vonnegut was in a class by himself. I became enamored with his world view, his cynicism and his sense of humor and read practically everything he wrote. His books made me laugh and cry and think, which is exactly what happened when I read Charles Shield's biography. I learned that Kurt Vonnegut was a very different man than his public persona, much more complex and flawed and human than I had imagined. Now that I have read this mesmerizing and educational look at Vonnegut's life and the history that shaped it, I owe it to myself start all over again, rereading his body of work through new eyes. Armed with context, I imagine the reading experience will be very different. I can't wait to find out.

Listen. The best endorsement I can give Mr. Shield's work is this:

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life will reside in a place of honor, on the top shelf of my bookcase, with all my other keep forever books, right next to my Vonnegut collection. It is that good.