We Are What We Pretend to Be

Kurt Vonnegut, Author
Kurt Vonnegut, foreword by Nanette Vonnegut. Perseus/Vanguard, $19.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-59315-743-2
Reviewed on: 09/03/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
Open Ebook - 978-1-322-36560-2
Paperback - 161 pages - 978-0-306-82278-0
Open Ebook - 183 pages - 978-1-59315-744-9
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Bookending Vonnegut’s career, the two semi-autobiographical stories contained in this unpolished posthumous collection are in print for the first time here. “Basic Training” is the author’s earnest first novella, written a few years before Player Piano and never published. In it, an orphaned, wet-behind-the-ears city kid is dispatched to a farm to live with a trio of opinionated female cousins under the watchful eye and iron fist of his uncle, whom he calls “the General.” A series of outlandish mishaps and numerous missteps, including an unrequited love and a madcap hitchhiking adventure with a delusional and murderous farmhand, invoke a slightly unhinged Mark Twain. “If God Were Alive Today,” unfinished upon the author’s death in 2007, raises Vonnegut’s signature existential critique of America’s warped values and corrupt political climate to a fevered pitch via the uncensored standup routine of his twice-institutionalized protagonist, comedian Gil Berman. Berman’s rapid-fire potshots—from the “war on drugs” to global warming (“The farts of our internal combustion engines have wrecked the atmosphere as a protective shield, and as anything a mother would want her child to breathe”)—couched in Vonnegut’s page-long rants are sometimes tiresome but will make readers wonder what a completed (and edited) novel might’ve amounted to. (Oct.)
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