on June 1, 2004
Well, most of the 54 previous reviewers raved about this collection of stories, but I did see one reviewer who felt the story, Monkey House, seems to encourage a certain illegal behavior. I agree with that observation, and while I was reading the story I was certain people today would notice that point: Maybe in 1968 (the publication date), people didn't notice?
Some of the stories seemed like "starter" stories, something a "wannabe" writer might write. But some really do make you think. What if you were forced to be "equal" to everyone else (Harrison Bergeron)? What if an anti-aging concoction was discovered and the population explosion covered the earth with people of all ages (Tomorrow etc.)? These kinds of questions are certainly relevant today, and that may be one measure of their worth: longevity.
I could not read this book like a novel, with growing interest as the plot unfolds. For me, it was the type of book one would have to put aside from time to time, to kind of "digest" the contents, before reading more. That could be another measure of literary worth: it doesn't go down like cotton candy but kind of "stays with you," the way a good meal should. Diximus.
on July 24, 2004
I've read everything Vonnegut ever wrote--no brag, just fact. So I know of where I speak . . . or whatever that phrase is. At any rate, WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE is one of my favorite books (BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and GOD BLESS YOU MR. ROSEWATER are top on this list), and I'm constantly preaching to those around me that more attention must be paid this great author. See, I'm doing it now. Worth the money just for "Harrison Bergeron," the greatest science fiction story of all time, and my favorite of all genres. It's the perfect story: short, funny, makes its point obvious without being preachy, and includes a scene (where the two main characters, freed from society's imposed handicaps, literally reach for the sky) that stays in your mind forever. Would also recommend THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD for a dark comedic suspenseful and shocking read.
on December 1, 2003
Myself, I've never read any Vonnegut in the past. As a matter of fact, I have not read many books at all before. This collection of short stories is just perfect for someone like me. The stories vary from about five pages to twenty pages apiece, making them easy for anyone to ascertain in a short amount of time. After getting about half-way through the book I decided to go out and purchase SLAUGHTER-HOUSE-FIVE, SIREN OF THE TITANS, and GODBLESS YOU DR.KEVORKIAN. That is what is so beautiful about this book, the fact that someone who never reads, can easily peruse a story or two with out missing a beat. Kurt will capture your attention in every tale.
Vonnegut came way before my time, but now I see what all the recognition was about. His ideas on government and modern society were way ahead of his time. His notions of peace, shifty politicians, and clandestine activities are what make him an excellent addition to any radical library. He writes science fiction, with a dash of harsh reality. These ideals, of an overpopulated world in which every aspect of our lives are governed, are presented with extraordinary detail in Vonnegut's writing. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Harrison Bergeron, and Welcome to the Monkey House (The story) are lurid representations of the way the future could be. This book has it all romance, tragedy, and triumph. Every story is not just science fiction, as you may imagine. Most of the stories are set in the past and have no portrayals of an automated society or a talking dog that helped to invent electricity. In fact, one of my favorite stories, The Foster Portfolio, is one that contains no special effects at all. Like many of Vonnegut's other stories, The Foster Portfolio just deals with simple human characteristics like pride, ambition, and happiness. The presentation that Kurt puts into his characters is marvelous. When you get done reading one of his stories you'll feel as though you know the characters.
on November 30, 2003
Having just finished Welcome to the Monkey House, I must admit that I prefer Vonnegut's lengthier works. I know this may make me a grand candidate for a good stoning, as Mr. K is reputed to be one of the best short story writers around, but this one just didn't do it for me like Slaughterhouse or Hocus Pocus or even Slapstick. Don't get me wrong, these stories are good, they just aren't any better than other famous and well read sci-fi short fiction writers like Asimov or Bradbury.
I think, oddly enough, the constriction of the medium has to do with some of the similarities I see between these stories and, say, the works of Ray Bradbury (who came to mind a number of times while reading this work). While Vonnegut's novels are sprawling and conversational with enough room for a doodle or two, these small pieces are forced into a beginning, middle and end format that doesn't play as well with his style.
I have devoured a number of Vonnegut works in a day or so, and sometimes I have read a them back to back, but Monkey House took me almost two weeks to read. I stalled out a few times, sometimes after two pages of a new story, and put the book down to finish it later. I ended up reading a story a day for the last week, just so I could finish without getting burned out.
Like I said before, these stories aren't bad, they just seem to be standard for both their age and their genre when Vonnegut tends to be anything other than standard on every other occasion. I wasn't terribly disappointed, but I will stick to the novels from now on.
on November 21, 2003
Kurt Vonnegut has a very unique writing style. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is not your regular book. This is a collection of short stories. All of them are classic Vonnegut. They include humor, and off the wall plots. A lot of the stories remind me of Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury).
Some of the stories are set in the future, others in the past. They are all captivating and encourage imagination. A lot of Vonnegut stories have a lesson to them if you look hard enough. This book's short stories definitely show some of the lessons he tries to teach.
If you have never read a Vonnegut book this would be a great one to start with. Because the stories are not very long, if you lose interest you can easily move on a different story. The actual story, "Welcome to the Monkey House" is great. Vonnegut shows us how warped our world could be. Many of the stories are like that.
Vonnegut continues to show us new possibilities in the realm we live in. None of his stories are so outlandish that they could never happen. He always includes enough reality to never make it impossible. What he does include makes us take a look at what we really want to allow the government to control and what could happen. Only Kurt Vonnegut could make a story that is about "ethical suicide." I loved it!!!! You will love this book, it is wild, it is crazy, and it is totally VONNEGUT.
on August 31, 2003
Like most writers who got their start before or shortly after WWII, Kurt Vonnegut began his writing career as a short story writer. Consequently, this collection includes some of his very earliest work, as well as several truly classic short stories that rank among the best of the second half of the 20th century. As one would expect from a collection housing many stories from a writer in his infancy, the collection is not consistently stellar: some pieces are unquestionably wonderful; others are of lesser quality, and at least one -- Where I Live -- is pointless. Vonnegut himself is quick to point out that this is not his best work: in the introduction he states that the stories were written to finance the writing of his novels. Indeed, as with many beginning writers, they constituted his very livelihood; writing them was often a matter of necessity, and not always necessarily the calling of artistic craft. Don't expect the Vonnegut that you're familar with from the novels. Several of these stories hit a moral note, as Vonnegut inevitably does, while others are attempts to strike an emotional chord. Vonnegut, at his short-story-writing best, was a master of what some of the greatest practitioners of the art -- Edgar Allen Poe, among others -- have cited as the key element of any short story: evoking one specific feeling, emotion, or tone. Vonnegut achieves this in many of the stories contained herein, and uses far less humor in doing so than we are accustomed to from him. Some of the best stories include the title story, which lays out a highly provocative and imaginative future scenario; Harrison Bergeron, a truly classic story that really strikes a moral chord; Tommorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, a bleak, darkly funny satirical piece; All The King's Horses, a highly suspenseful and dramatic rendering; Unready To Wear, a thoughtful slice of science fiction; Report On The Barnhouse Effect, Vonnegut's first published story and a science fiction classic; and The Manned Missles, an emotional shocker. Many of these stories are science fiction, a genre under which a lot of Vonnegut's early work fell. Science fiction, at that time, was not even considered a real literary genre, and many literary elitists disparage Vonnegut for having mined it. The author himself has also distanced himself from the field in intervening years, due to the bad press it got him, which has caused a rift between Vonnegut and the science fiction community. Let it be said by me, then, a long-time reader of science fiction, that Vonnegut wrote very well in the genre, and that most of his best short stories were, indeed, SF. Though he never purveyed the so-called "hard" science fiction, full of complex technicalities, that made writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov famous, Vonnegut was continually full of great ideas that were well-suited the genre. I wish he had written more SF stories. Overall, quite a good collection of short fiction, certainly far superior to the more recent Bagombo Snuff Box -- do not avoid reading this book if you weren't a big fan of that one -- though it does not rank among the best of Vonnegut's work. I recommend it highly to fans of the author or enthusiasts of the short story art form.
on March 20, 2003
If you don't already know Kurt Vonnegut's work, this may be the best introduction to it -- especially considering that short stories are the art form that Vonnegut started out with, where he developed his craft.
And if you already know Vonnegut but don't know this book, then think of this as the author in delicious bit-sized chunks.
But read the book!
I would not say that Welcome to the Monkey House is Vonnegut's best book -- in fact, it may not even be in the top five by my calculations -- but it is the one book of his I would keep if I had to give all the other away, simply because of the diversity of the stories he tells and the simple writing skill they illustrate.
And I might argue that the best single STORY Vonnegut ever wrote is "Harrison Bergeron" the riveting and still-relevant tale about human nature that effects me as much today as it did when I first read it 20 years ago. Vonnegut without a doubt proves with this story that all writers are not created equal.
on May 29, 2002
It's interesting that most of the reviewers who give this anthology a high rating appear to be male, because only men (or adolescent boys) could fail to realize that the title story is, appallingly, about rape as a "good" thing. Vonnegut's premise in the "Monkey House" story is that in some future over-populated society, all sexuality will be suppressed by chemical means, and euthanasia will be encouraged in "Ethical Suicide Parlor" franchises. A renegade named Billy the Poet has been kidnapping the beautiful female operators of the suicide parlors, forcing them off their sex-suppression pills, and "deflowering" them in the name of freedom. What Billy actually does is rape these women, telling them that they should be grateful and that he only has their happiness in mind when he does this! That Vonnegut should present a rapist as a hero, someone who's trying to liberate the world from a sexually oppressive government/society, is simply ghastly and offensive! Billy's explanation that in Victorian times all women were in effect raped by their husbands on their wedding night is both historically inaccurate and just plain stupid. It's some kind of sick, sadistic male fantasy that a virgin will suddenly start to like sex when her only sexual experience has been a violent violation by a stranger! (Small wonder that the story was originally published in "Playboy" magazine!) Maybe if Billy had wooed the women and made them want to have sex with him (granted, he'd still have to kidnap them to keep them off their sex-suppression pills), Vonnegut could make the case for Billy as some sort of hedonistic, freedom-loving hero. It's a shame, because early on in the story there are flashes of humor and satiric barbs at American society; Vonnegut ruins it all in the truly repellent ending to his tale. As for the other stories: the science fiction ones are rather crudely written, somewhat jerky and forced, and often dated, although the story of "EPICAC" the computer is cute. Vonnegut does better in the real world: "The Kid Nobody Could Handle," "All the King's Horses" (admittedly a tad fantastical), and "Who Am I this Time?" are poignant and interesting.
on March 18, 2002
I'm not a huge fan of short story collections since I'd much rather sit through a single story throughout all those pages instead of a series of tales that at best tend to be hit or miss and wildly inconsistent. However there are some writers that I will acknowledge are masters of the form, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury and of course Kurt Vonnegut (that's not even counting the "classic" short story masters who I haven't read) who's novels sometimes come across as longish short stories anyway. Most of these stories were written early in his career, in the fifties or sixties and it looks like someone actually made an attempt to sequence them instead of just dumping them in chronoloogical order, thus there's a bit of a procession as you move along, finally ending with the darkly hopeful 'Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow". Along the way you'll find that the quality is quite high and many of these are very much vintage Vonnegut. He mixes around with genres and so SF exercises such as "Harrison Bergeron" and "Welcome to the Monkey House" (classics both) sit comfortably next to more typical stories such as "Manned Missiles" (which gets my vote for most effective story in the collection and surprised me the most). There aren't really any clunkers here, some are simpler than others and will pass you by without much impact, but the majority all have some moment or theme to recommend them as keepers and give you something to think about long after you've finished them. Sure, most of the stories were written in a different time but regardless of the SF or the Cold War backdrop or whatever, these are essentially timeless and deserved to be read again and again.
on March 16, 2002
In the preface of Welcome to the Monkey House, Vonnegut writes, "I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write I simply become what I seemingly must become." In his collection of short stories, Vonnegut becomes many things; from a sales man, to a soldier to a sexually oppressed women. This collection holds diverse types of stories, all original, and all charming in their own way. This is not a short story collection that repeats itself. Each one opens a door to a different subject matter. The stories are glued together with Vonnegut's humor and whit. I truly felt that each story was fantastic.
I know someone who cried after reading the story D.P. After reading Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog, I haven't been able to look at dogs the same way. And the selection Welcome to the Monkey House is guaranteed to give you butterflies in your stomach.
Vonnegut holds on to your attention and doesn't give it back until you have finished all 25 stories. This book displays the extensive imagination that Vonnegut encompasses. Once again Vonnegut brings to light things that we never could imagine, and puts it on paper.