And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, a Life

Charles J. Shields. Holt, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8693-5
Vonnegut initially refused to grant an interview to Shields (author of the bestselling Mockingbird), but then relented, enabling Shields to meet him during the last months of his life. This first authorized biography probes both Vonnegut's creative struggles and family life, detailing his transition from "the bowery of the book world" to counterculture icon. Shields delivers a vivid recreation of Vonnegut's ghastly WWII experiences as a POW during the Dresden firebombing that became the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five; the novel brought him overnight fame when it was serialized in Ramparts magazine and then published in a month when 453 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Tragedies and triumphs are contrasted throughout, along with an adroit literary analysis that highlights obscure or overlooked influences on Vonnegut: Ambrose Bierce, Céline, Robert Coover's metafiction, and Paul Rhymer, who scripted radio's Vic and Sade. With access to more than 1,500 letters, Shields conducted hundreds of interviews to produce this engrossing, definitive biography. It arrives during a year of renewed interest in Vonnegut, such as this year's Library of America's Kurt Vonnegut: Novels & Stories 1963–1973, and Gregory D. Sumner's Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels, also due in Nov. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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