cover image Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction

Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.. Putnam Publishing Group, $24.95 (295pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14505-6

Any new book by Vonnegut, especially since he has vowed to retire from literature, will be welcomed by his fans. But as the author himself says in his introduction, these 23 apprenticeship stories ""were expected to be among the living about as long as individual lightning bugs,"" and they will be of most interest to completists and scholars. Vonnegut's best short stories from the '50s were collected in Welcome to the Monkey House. Those in this collection for the most part work humbly with formulas dear to mid-century middlebrow magazines like Colliers. Included are tales like ""The No-Talent Kid"" and ""The Boy Who Hated Girls,"" both featuring a genial bandmaster named George Helmholtz, who has to deal with misfit high school boys while dreaming of owning a seven-foot-tall drum. In ""Thanasphere,"" Vonnegut tries out a sci-fi theme--a man is sent into space in a rocket and discovers that space is full of the voices of the dead. In a short, ironic piece, ""Der Arme Dolmetscher,"" a soldier who recites a line from Heine's ""Die Lorelei"" that he has learned by rote is assumed to ""talk Kraut"" by a bungling officer. Pressed into service as a translator, he acquires just enough of the language to help his detachment surrender in the Battle of the Bulge. The title story concerns a man who visits his ex-wife and feeds her a cock-and-bull story about being an adventurer. In ""Runaways,"" two teenagers realize that love is not enough to get married on, gently deflating the myth of the then-incipient youth culture long before the Summer of Love. Vonnegut's afterword, ""Coda to My Career as a Writer for Periodicals,"" comments in his trademark style about his midwestern origins and the vagaries of writing for magazines. BOMC featured alternate. (Sept.)