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Jailbird: A Novel Paperback – Jan 12 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback (Jan. 12 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385333900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333900
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“He has never been more satirically on-target. . . . Nothing is spared.”—People

“[Vonnegut] is our strongest writer . . . the most stubbornly imaginative.”—John Irving
“A gem . . . a mature, imaginative novel—possibly the best he has written . . . Jailbird is a guided tour de force of America. Take it!”—Playboy

From the Back Cover

"He is our strongest writer . . . the most stubbornly imaginative." -- John Irving, author of The Cider House Rules.

"A gem. . . a mature, imaginative novel-possibly the best he has written. . . Jailbird is a guided tour de force of America. Take it!" -- Playboy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
LIFE GOES ON, yes-and a fool and his self-respect are soon parted, perhaps never to be reunited even on Judgment Day. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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By Kris on April 5 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book may make you laugh out loud. It did me, several times. Like when Walter's date, Sarah, guffaws at his boyish attempt to kiss her, "braying like she was at a Marx brothers' movie." Or something.
Walter F. Starbuck's striking characteristic, to me, is his humility. He seems to have no hidden pretenses about his role in the world, never forgets his humble origins, never takes others for granted or assumes he's superior to them. He seems generally to assume he's inferior. Yes, he did make some mistakes, but they don't seem gargantuan (for example, he "ratted" on a one-time friend, mentioning during an investigative hearing that his friend had once been a member of the Communist party).
The narrative just keeps rolling until about the end, when poor Mrs. Jack Graham, Walter's first sexual experience, dies as a fantastically wealthy bag lady, in her tennis shoes, as it were, filled with a desultory 4,000 one dollar bills and her last will and testament (to distribute her corporate empire to the American people). The ending just seems slightly abrupt.
But one important piece of philosophical advice may have been given by Walter, when he notes that, no matter what course he had taken in his life, it really wouldn't make any difference in a world (which is) just a small iota in an infinitely expanding universe. Except to us? Diximus.
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By Tom on March 17 2001
Format: Paperback
Vonnegut has a way of combining Orwell's eye with Updike's wit, and the sum is greater still, than the parts.
Jailbird takes readers on a long ride, beginning in WWII and ending somewhere in amoral corporate America, a land where friends come eaiser if you're the head of the "Downhome Records" division of the awesome RAMJAC Corporation.
Vonnegut tells a compelling tale, rich with ironic twists and tiny coincedences, all of which roll nicely into the growing snowball that Jailbird becomes.
Jailbird is a fabulous for Vonnegut first-timers, largely because it does not draw on past works the way many of his other classics do.
That said, if you are a Vonnegut reader, you quickly feel at home, comfortably but helplessly watching Walter Starbuck run his life into the ground.
How Vonnegut can paint the world of inalterable predestiny without any sense of cynicism is beyond me, but you never feel a sense of impending doom, only a happy, benign resignation.
All that must be, will be, yet, it's gotta be, so...why not.
This is a book you will reread countless times.
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By George on Feb. 21 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jailbird is a truly unique and enjoyable novel. It is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, a man whose life was intertwined through Harvard, the Great Depression, communism, World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and Watergate. For a man to be so well connected to history, greatness or infamy would likely be concluded. Walter Starbuck attained neither. Vonnegut introduces the reader to Walter's pathetic life through a highly unusual structure. The story is told in first person from Walter's point of view, but it jumps from one part of his life to another in such a way that it nearly resembles stream of consciousness. Fortunately, it is easily read and his style is easily adapted to. Irony and humor are two constants throughout the novel. Sometimes Vonnegut uses them to make a cynical comment on the state of our society. Usually they add to the entertainment value of the novel and gain the readers interest. "The human condition in an exploding universe would not have been altered one iota if, rather than live as I have, I had done nothing but carry a rubber ice-cream cone from closet to closet," is a good representation of Vonnegut's humor. From a man with a "French-fried hand," to a harp showroom atop the Chrysler building, Jailbird is also permeated with surreal images which contribute to the dreamlike tone of the novel. I found Jailbird very intriguing and quite compelling. It is a good book for anyone who is interested in history, politics, or who enjoys cynical comedy. While the novel does center around several key political points in our nations history, Vonnegut avoids delving too deeply into personal politics and thus refrains from alienating certain readers. In Jailbird, Vonnegut uses cynical humor with a razor sharp edge to discuss social and philosophical issues.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the 3 Kurt Vonnegut works I've read so far. This one cruises and rollicks along as well as any. The jokes, the unbelievable coincidences, and the compassionate fury at man's inhumanity to man, both the premeditated kind and that resulting from sheer stupidity and carelessness. The nasty and the rich and powerful get even nastier and richer and more powerful, while the innocent go to jail, and the idealists go out of their minds. The twists and turns of the plot keep you turning the page. As the best fiction often does, this novel tells human and societal truths better than a factional account. The main character, Walter F. Starbuck, is sponsored by an eccentric millionaire who stuttered and was universally despised - his stammer started after witnessing a massacre of workers in front of his father's factory. Moral: the sensitive man cannot protest, only stutter, and is looked on as a fool by all; is that not the way of the world? Grown-up, Starbuck becomes a socialist and joins the communist party, like thousands of others during the Depression era: what could be more natural? A few years later, being a communist becomes a crime against humanity, and Starbuck is interviewed by the commission. Unable to take this persecution of good intentions and high ideals seriously, Starbuck flippantly announces that a famous patriot was also a communist in those days, as were so many others. This offhand remark sends the patriot to jail and ruins his life, a fact which haunts Starbuck till the end of the story.
The story is full of ironic symbolism and is almost a comic allegory in its treatment of contemporary American society. High humanistic ideals and compassion become a crime; those guilty of it are prosecuted with fury.
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