Too many modern books are either parts of a series, or 700 pages long, or both. Too many classic novels suffer from the same problem, War and Peace and pretty much anything by Dickens is a long term project. Somewhere along the line a number of writers decided to bang out books that could be read in one or two sittings. Kurt Vonnegut was one of those writers.
Slapstick is another good old fashioned End of The World book-Kurt Vonnegut loves that whole post-Apocalyptic thing. People die by the millions, nations crumble into ruins, and the Chinese learn to control The Universe. Most of these events are only peripheral to the story of Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, President of The United States, King of New York, and a genetic throw back to the Neanderthal era. He is also half of the greatest human mind in history-the other half being his sister, who is also a Neanderthal.
Spalstick is told in a series of tiny bits, the story broken down into bite sized pieces. Flashbacks are told in a few paragraphs containing a small fragment of the story, followed by other flashbacks containing more bits of the story. It is a wonderfully confusing structure that works brilliantly at keeping you moving briskly through the seemingly endless storylines.
There are the usual Vonnegutism poking fun at science, politics, the military, and humans in general. One of Kurt Vonnegut’s little stylist ticks is to say things like And So On or I’m Kidding at regular intervals. In Slapstick the phrase he overuses is Hi Ho. Old Doc Wilbur promises to go back and strike out all the Hi Ho’s, but he never gets around to it. Hi Ho.
Slapstick is the kind of stream of consciousness novel that James Joyce and Proust dreamed of writing. Starting with a 20 page long prologue in which Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. says Slapstick is as close to an autobiography as he is ever likely to come and ending with a wrap up taking place in a future where no one can read or write and we are left with any number of questions as to what it all means. The pieces all fit together, but somehow it doesn’t seem to match the picture on the box.
And that’s alright. It is a fun book and one that still seems to be working to put itself together after it has ended. It was so smooth and so quirky and I did come close to finishing it in one sitting. Man Without a Country was a fast read as well.
One of the great things about Vonnegut’s books is that they are both fast reads and profoundly thought provoking-and a wonderfully silly.