Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Vonnegut’


My second Vonnegut book.

September 7, 2011

I held this book in my hands several times before actually checking it out. Every time I’d wonder at the title, a phrase I’d heard so many times but never understood the full meaning of, I’d thumb through and look at the weird illustrations, also something I didn’t get. Something always stopped me from checking it out. Another book always overrode it, whether it was because of urgency, a better cover, whatever. I finally got it on a whim, knowing that I’d have to get one or two more books in of free reading before school would take over 24/7. At first, I was taken aback at the odd descriptions of “wide open beavers” and the like. I closed it after 30 pages and turned back to my laptop where everything was a bit more sane. I turned to the book again later that day and read more and more. And from there, I started loving it. Books and people are like, they both deserve a few chances if they doesn’t immediately capture you.

Excerpt #98:
People took such awful chances with chemicals and their bodies because they wanted the quality of their lives to improve. They lived in ugly places where there were only ugly things to do. They didn’t own doodley-squat, so they couldn’t improve their surroundings. So they did their best to make their insides beautiful instead. (72)

Excerpt #99:
“Trout was petrified there on Forty-second Street. It had give him a life not worth living, but I had also give him an iron will to live. This was a common combination on the planet Earth.”

Excerpt #100:
“God bless you,” said the manager. This was a fully automatic response many Americans had to hearing a person sneeze.
“Thank you,” sid Trout. Thus a temporary friendship was formed.

Excerpt #101
The driver got onto the subject of friends. He said it was hard for him to maintain friendships that meant anything because he was on the road most of the time. He joked about the time when he used to talk about his “best friends.” He guessed people stopped talking about best friends after they got out of junior high school.
He suggested that Trout, since Trout was in the combination aluminum storm window and screen business, had opportunities to build many lasting friendships in the course of his work. “I mean,” he said, “you get men working together day after day, putting up those windows, they get to know each other pretty well.”
“I work alone,” said Trout.
The driver was disappointed. “I assumed it would take two men to do the job.”
“Just one,” said Trout. “A weak little kid could do it without any help.”
The driver wanted Trout to have a rich social life so that he could enjoy it vicariously. “All the time,” he insisted, “you’ve got buddies you see after work. You have a few beers. You play some cards. You have some laughs.”
Trout shrugged.
“You walk down the same streets every day,” the driver told him. “You know a lot of people, and they know you, because it’s the same streets for you, day after day. You say, ‘Hello,’ and they say, ‘Hello, back. You call them by name. They call you by name. If you’re in a real jam, they’ll help you, because you’re one of ’em. You belong. They see you every day.”
Trout din’t want to argue about it.

Excerpt #102:
“Why would anybody in the business of highspeed transportation name his business and his trucks after buildings which haven’t moved an eighth of an inch since Christ was born?”
The driver’s answer was prompt. It was peevish, too, as though he thought Trout was stupid to have to ask a question like that. “He liked the sound of it. “Don’t you like the sound of it?”
Trout in order to keep things friendly. “Yes,” he said, “it’s a very nice sound.”

Trout sat back and thought about the conversation. He shaped it into a story, which he never got around to writing until he was an old, old man. It was about a planet where the language kept turning into pure music, because the creatures there were so enchanted by sounds. Words became musical notes. Sentences became melodies. They were useless as conveyors of information, because nobody knew or cared what the meanings of words were anymore.
So leaders in government and commerce, in order to function, had to invent new and much uglier vocabularies and sentence structures all the time, which would resist being transmuted to music.

Excerpt #103:
“The truck carrying Kilgore Trout was in West Virginia now. The surface of the state had been demolished by men and machinery and explosives in order to make it yield up its coal. The coal was mostly gone now. It had been turned into heat.
The surface of West Virginia, with its coal and trees and topsoil gone, was rearranging what was left of itself in conformity with laws of gravity. It was collapsing into all the holes which had been dug into it. Its mountains, which had once found it easy to stand by themselves were sliding into valleys now.
The demolition of West Virginia had taken place with the approval of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the State Government, which drew their power from the people.
Here and there an inhabited dwelling still stood.

He told Trout that people he’d heard of in the area who grabbed live copperheads and rattlesnakes during church services, to show how much they believed that Jesus would protect them.
“Takes all kinds of people to make up a world,” said Trout.

Trout marveled at how recently white men had arrived in West Virginia, and how quickly they had demolished it – for heat.
Now the heat was all gone, too – in outer space, Trout supposed. It had boiled water, and the steam had made steel windmills whiz around and around. The windmills had made rotors in generators whiz around and around. AMerica was jazzed with electricity for a while. Coal had also powered old-fashioned steamboats and choo-choo trains.
Kilgore Trout thought about the cries of steam whistles he had known, and about the destruction of West Virginia, which made their songs possible. He supposed that the heart-rending cries had fled into outer space, along with the heat. He was mistaken.
Like most science fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science, was bored stiff by technical details. But no cry from a whistle had got very far from Earth for this reason: sound could only travel in an atmosphere, and the atmosphere of Earth relative to the planet wasn’t even as thick as the skin of an apple. Beyond that lay an all-but-perfect vacuum.
(123-127, excerpts)

Excerpt #104:
“It don’t seem right, though,” the old miner said to Trout, “that a man can own what’s underneath another man’s farm or woods or house. And any time the man wants to get what’s underneath all that, he’s got aright to wreck whats on top to get at it. The rights of the people on top of the ground don’t amount to nothing compared to the rights of the man who owns what’s underneath.”

Excerpt #105:
Dwayne and Francine made love in the Quality motor Court. Then they stayed in bed for a while. It was a water bed. Francine had a beautiful body. So did Dwayne. “We never made love in the afternoon before,” said Francine.
“I felt so tense,” said Dwayne.
“I know,” said Francine. “Are you better now?”
“Yes.” He was lying on his back. his ankles were crossed. His hands were folded behind his head. His great wang lay across his thigh like a salami. It slumbered now.
“I love you so much,” said Francine. She corrected herself. “I know I promised not to say that, but that’s a promise I can’t help breaking all the time.” The thing was: dwayne had made a pct with her that neither one of them was ever to mention love. Since Dwayne’s wife had eaten Drano, Dwayne never wanted to hear about love again. The subject was too painful.
Dwayne snuffled. It was customary for him to communicate by means of snuffles after sexual intercourse. The snuffles all had meanings which were bland: “That’s all right…forget it…who could blame you?” And so on.
“On Judgment Day, said Francine, “when they ask me what bad things I did down here, I’m going to have to tell them, ‘Well – there was a promise I made to a man I loved, and I broke it all the time. I promised him never to say I loved him.'”

Excerpt #106:
Oh, Mr. Trout,” nice Milo went on, there in Trout’s suite, “teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry. We’ve tried to survive so long on money and sex and envy and real estate and football and basketball and automobiles and television and alcohol – on sawdust and broken glass!”
“Open your eyes!” said Trout bitterly. “Do I look like a dancer, a singer, am an of joy?” He was wearing his tuxedo now. It was a size too large for him. he had lost much weight since high school. His pockets were crammed with mothballs. They bulged like saddlebags.
“Open your eyes!” said Trout. “would a man nourished by beauty look like this? You haven oohing but desolation and desperation here, you say? I bring you more of the same!”
“My eyes are open,” said Milo warmly, “and I see exactly what I expect to see. I see a man who is terribly wounded – because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again – to tell us about the other side.” (239-240)

Excerpt #107:
All of us were stuck to the surface of a ball, incidentally. The planet was ball-shaped. Nobody knew why we didn’t fall off, even though everybody pretended to kind of understand it. 
The really smart people understood that one of the best ways to get rich was to own a part of the surface people had to stick to. (247) 


So it goes.

August 18, 2010

This author has been in my head for a long time. My first read by him was so good that it took me way too long to read. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was open on page 80 until I was on public transportation where a computer wasn’t available to distract me – I started devouring it then. This book is sensitive, it makes me cringe, it’s very uniquely written – there are no extraneous words, each one enhances the scene or emotion or description. That fascinates me. Here is a taste. (As a sidenote: the main character of this book, Billy Pilgrim, has no sense of time.) Well, this was written after I typed up all the excerpts. I realize I gave you all more than a taste…I gave you a meal. It’s a good one though, please try it. I bolded my favorite parts if you’re not hungry enough for all of these words. Or, you know, you could just go check out the book and read the entire thing.

Excerpt #70:
From there he traveled in time to 1965. He was forty-one years old, and he was visiting his decrepit mother at Pine Knoll, an old people’s home he had put her in only a month before. She had caught pneumonia, and wasn’t expected to live. She did live, though, for years after that.
Her voice was nearly gone, so, in order to hear her, Billy had to put his ear right next to her papery lips. She evidently had something very important to say.
“How…?” she began, and she stopped. She was too tired. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to say the rest of the sentence, that Billy would finish it for her.
But Billy had no idea what was on her mind. “How what, Mother?” he prompted.
She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At least she had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence:
“How did I get so old?” (44)

Excerpt #71:
Billy Pilgrim, there in the creekbed, thought he, Billy Pilgrim, was turning to steam painlessly. If everybody would leave him alone for just a little while, he thought, he wouldn’t cause anybody any more trouble. He would turn to steam and float up among the treetops.
Somewhere the big dog barked again. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.
Roland Weary, eighteen years old, insinuated himself between the scouts, draped a heavy arm around the shoulder of each. “So what do the Three Musketeers do now?” he said.
Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn’t time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow. (49)

Excerpt #72:
Even though Billy’s train wasn’t moving, its boxcars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of black bread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language.
Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared. (70)

Excerpt #73:
Now he was indoors, next to an iron cookstove that was glowing cherry red. Dozens of teapots were boiling there. Some of them had whistles. And there was a witches’ cauldron full of golden soup. The soup was thick. Primeval bubbles surfaced it with lethargical majesty as Billy Pilgrim stared. (95)

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside. One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on fire. “You’re on fire, lad!” he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the sparks with his hands.
When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, “Can you talk? Can you hear?”
Billy nodded.
The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. “My God – what have they done to you, lad? This isn’t a man. It’s a broken kite.”

Excerpt #74:
Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earthlings to inhabit earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.
A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.
Then the shelling stopped, and a hidden German with a loudspeaker told the Americans to put their weapons down and come out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, or the shelling would start again. It wouldn’t stop until everybody in there was dead.
So the Americans put their weapons down, and they came out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, because they wanted to go on living, if they possibly could. (106-107)

Excerpt #75:
“Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945,” Billy Pilgrim began. “We came out of our shelter the next day.” He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet. He told her about the stockyards with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone – told her about seeing little logs lying around. There were people who had been caught in the fire storm. So it goes.
Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.
“It was like the moon,” said Billy Pilgrim.

The guards told the Americans to form in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had them march back to the hog barn which had een their home. Its walls still stood, but its windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors, if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.
Which they did.

The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbed them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things – hot to the touch, often unstable – eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.
Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear:
Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all. (179-180)

Excerpt #76:
(Billy has fallen asleep in the wagon while the rest have gone to search for souvenirs on what they called home before the fire-bombing on Dresden.)
Billy Opened his eyes. A middle-aged man and wife were crooning to the horses. They were noticing what the Americans had not noticed – that the horses mouths were bleeding, gashed by the bits, that the horses’ hooves were broken, so that every step meant agony, that the horses were insane with thirst. The Americans had treated their form of transportation as thought it were no more sensitive than a six-cylinder Chevrolet.

These two horse pitiers moved back along the wagon to where they could gaze in patronizing reproach at Billy – at Billy Pilgrim, who was so long and weak, so ridiculous in his azure toga and silver shoes. They weren’t afraid of him. They weren’t afraid of anything. They were doctors, both obstetricians. They had been delivering babies until the hospitals were all burned down. Now they were picnicking near where their apartment used to be.
The woman was softly beautiful, translucent from having eaten potatoes for so long. The man wore a business suit, necktie and all. Potatoes had made him gaunt. He was as tall s Billy, wore steel-rimmed trifocals. This couple, so involved with babies, had never reproduced themselves, thought they could have. This was an interesting comment on the whole idea of reproduction.
They had nine languages between them. They tried Polish on Billy Pilgrim first, since he was dressed so clownlishly, since the wretched Poles were the involuntary clowns of the Second World War.
Billy asked them in English what it was they wanted, and they at once scolded him in English for the condition of the horses. They made Billy get out of the wagon and come look at the horses. When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst into tears. He hadn’t cried about anything else in the war. (196-197)

-Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut