on May 19, 2004
Just two stars. It pains me. KV is one of my favorite authors, and so I'm used to his often quirky and silly style which he used to spectacular effect in books like Slaughterhouse-Five and especially Breakfast of Champions (my personal fave). But here it seems as if Vonnegut is simply working his shtick, heartlessly going through the motions as if he were getting tired of the whole routine. It wasn't for lack of ideas--as usual, he offers a huge pile of observations about our collective condition in the monkey house and wacky but insightful solutions to the problems therein--but they seem to be all but random bits of dust floating in a shapeless mess of a story that tries to coagulate into something meaningful and ultimately doesn't really go anywhere. Perhaps another draft would have helped pull everything together. Or maybe at this point KV really was as washed out as he keeps insisting. And yes, all the "hi-ho"s in this book are not only pointless but royally irritating, like the hiccups they are likened to--definitely not on the same level of literary greatness as KV's immortal "and so on". He was reaching. Kilgore Trout doesn't even appear.
Read Slapstick only after having seen what KV is REALLY capable of when all his cylinders are firing and the nitrous is on full blast: Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse-Five, Welcome To The Monkey House, Cat's Cradle, Mother Night. Etc. And so on.
on June 29, 2003
As far as I can tell, this was Vonnegut's attempt at an distopian novel of the vein of Brave New World or 1984, yet more satirical. But Vonnegut struck out with this book.
The first person narrative style of Slapstick is somewhat similar to that of Cat's Cradle (which I have yet to finish). The story is told from the viewpoint of the King of New York, who is the ugliest man in the world and is the former President of the United States. During his presidency, he invents artificial familes based on randomized middle names, and scientific advancements by the Chinese and the Albanian flu lead to the destruction of the country.
As the descriptions of the novel show, Slapstick is utterly ridiculous, which was of course Vonnegut's aim. Unfortunately, the book does not seem to have much more of a deeper meaning. Instead, it seems as though it was just an excuse for Vonnegut to write another crazy book. It seems too silly to be intriguing on a more literary scope. Another problem is that the reappearing "Hi ho" in Slapstick becomes annoying quickly.
One good thing about this book is that it is a very quick read. If you see it at a yardsale, you might want to pick it up for a quick giggle. But that's about all you will get from this book. I wouldn't invest any more money in it than a dollar or two. If you are interested in Vonnegut, start with Slaughterhouse-Five if you haven't already read it. It is still the best book of his that I have read.
on May 18, 2003
Kurt Vonnegut's Slapstick or Lonesome No More! is an apocalyptic, though somehow light-hearted vision of the future of our planet and the demise of the United States. It is written as the autobiography of Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, former pediatrician, author, and President of the United States who is writing the story from the first floor of the Empire State Building on The Island of Death (a.k.a. Manhattan). In this amusing account, Vonnegut weaves some of his craftiest humor into a story that it strangely devoid of emotion like so many of his other novels. However, if you're expecting anything on the same level as Mother Night or Slaughterhouse-5, you'll be disappointed.
The basic fact of the matter is this: Vonnegut's best is always the most evocative of the world we live in. In this book, he discusses our future as a human race, but in doing this, he fails to show the connection between our current actions and the result in the impending future. In my opinion, that is what makes good satire, and though he manages to deliver a few nice punch lines, the purpose of the tale is murky and ambiguous.
Every once in the while, I felt that I might have finally figured out the real central theme of the novel. For example, when the main character becomes president, he splits the population into "families" so they will be "lonesome no more." However, it is difficult to tell if this is successful through his writing, so the purpose of this incident also becomes muddled under the constant onslaught of his humor. In conclusion, while Slapstick might be good for a laugh, the reader is likely to ask himself after finishing the book "What's the point?"
on June 21, 2002
Slapstick is one of the four best Vonnegut books (** see below), and a "must have". Intriguingly, Vonnegut himself rated this book as inferior, but I (and many, many other fans) disagree vehemently. Vonnegut took great satisfaction is weaving complex undercurrents into his stories, and that complexity is largely absent here, which is perhaps why he disfavoured it.
Still he can have his opinion and I'll have mine. I LOVE this book. Vonnegut first paints a picture of absolutely despair, defeat and alienation, and then magically conjures up a redemption. As with many of KV's works, love and connection between people (and the consequences of its absence) is his dominant theme.
As a general comment on Vonnegut, and Slapstick in particular, Vonnegut realises that often we can best comprehend tragedy when we are laughing. Joseph Heller realised this in Catch-22, as he exposed the horror of war. Here in Slapstick, Vonnegut instead explores the "cancer of loneliness". There is grand and comical farce, but also heart-touching moments of bittersweetness. If you have never experienced loneliness then you won't truly understand this book, but then hey - lucky you.
And the redemption...? I'll let you discover that on your own. I found it truly beautiful.
(** In my opinion the three other members of the "four best Vonnegut's" are: Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat's Cradle.)
on November 5, 2000
Vonnegut treads on familiar turf with repeated success in SLAPSTICK. Vonnegut narrates candidly as Wilbur Swain. Wilbur and his twin sister Eliza are born horribly rich and horribly deformed. Their aristocratic parents place them in a secluded New Hampshire estate to hide them from the world and to protect them from their own idiocy. The problem is that as the children grow they hide the fact that together they can communicate and have the intellect of a super genius. Despite this they are seperated and Wilbur goes to Harvard, becomes a doctor, and eventually President of the United States while his sister languishes in a group home. She is eventually released and ends up being killed in an avalanche on a chinese colony on Mars.
The future shows the demise of the United States, the emergance of tiny chinese as the only superpower, and the mass death of humanity due to influenza and the green plague. The story ends with the narration of Wilbur as he sits as the first king of New York.
The tale is as funny as it is outlandish. Vonnegut uses his apocalyptic ordeal to jab at many of society's sacred establishments. He mocks organized religion through his depiction of the "sacred order of the kidnapped Jesus". He manages to criticize marriage, love, patriotism, and the upper class humorously and repeatedly. Even his minor shots are poignant without the hint of subtlety. (One man is not allowed to go to war because the others would not let him escape the responsibility of raising all of his illegitimate children)
Vonnegut's wit is only outmatched by his ability to tell an entertaining story. No matter how far fetched the setting, Vonnegut never loses the reader's interest. The book flys by, you can read this in a day without knowing where the time went. I did. My only complaint was that it was too short. I found myself wondering out loud what happened next? Even those who are not die hard Vonnegut fans will enjoy this book.
on October 6, 2000
While Vonnegut himself criticized this book, giving it a low grade in his writing report card, I find it to be one of his two best (the other being Galapagos). Slapstick is one of the funniest books I have ever read, in addition to being a stunning example of how forced collectivism would affect the world.
Vonnegut's books often make no sense on purpose. This annoyed me about Vonnegut when reading Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champions. However, Slapstick has an impressively coherent plot. For all those who have complained that there is not enough unity or togetherness in the world, this book is an answer. The arbitrary collectivism imposed by the main character is disastrous to the nation. Everything regresses. While Vonnegut claimed to be an advocate of socialism, this book makes a well-defined argument against it. Vonnegut's works are not often read as intensely ideological, merely as humor, but satire implies ideas. This is one of my 20 favorite books, and that is exceedingly high praise.
Vonnegut fans will enjoy the inherent satire in this book, as well as the usual cheap comic gimmicks (yes, you know the phrase involving flying donuts and the mooooooooooooon). However, those who dislike most of Vonnegut's work will find in Slapstick a thorouighly enjoyable, coherent ideological work. Even if you don't generally like Vonnegut's style, this book may very easily surprise you.
on August 6, 2000
Careful: it's not corny sci-fi, like the kind I hate, it's humorous sci-fi.
It includes such crazy ideas as: frequent trips to Mars, dematerialization of people, Chinese technological takeover of the world, and a huge plague capable of wiping out an entire population, unless you have the antidote.
The narrator is, in this book, a freak of nature, deformed, lurchy and awkward. By himself, he is slow-witted and simple, but with his sister, his twin, he can team up to become super-intelligent.
He later grows up to be president of the USA, with new ideas on how to create new families within the States, creating new camaraderie among people who weren't satisfied with only one family.
There is in this book - as always with Vonnegut books - an Apocalyptic vision of our world, but as seen from a humorous, wry perspective. This topic never becomes tedious, and always seems to be approached from a new angle.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone. It's in the list of the all-time best Vonnegut works.
on June 17, 2000
Vonnegut himself said he couldn't decide if this book was his worst - or his best.
I love this one and it's my favorite Vonnegut book.
In it he actually discusses his own life a good bit, and his relationship with his sister, with whom he was very close. I felt like I had a much better idea of who Vonnegut is after reading this one.
The two main characters are very engaging, and the story is classic Vonnegut -- you gotta love people despite all their faults. The story is post-Apocalyptic, as so many of his stories are, but it has a more positive feel to it than many of them, despite the poor circumstances the people are in.
The message that life goes on is a hopeful one. I found the relationship between the main characters to be very thought-provoking. I think the critics vilified this one when it was first published, and I can't say that if you like Vonnegut you'll love this one -- because even some of his fans didn't like this one so much.
But if you like the idea of 2 soulmates being better together than they are separately, and if you've a fondness for the idiosyncracies of geniuses, you might like this one as much as I did.
on November 22, 1998
This book wrestles with Breakfast of Champions for the title of Best Vonnegut Book. It is the reason why there is truly nobody like him on the bookshelves, and unfortunately there probably never will be again.
The main force of the plot is the story of a freakish brother and sister team who, when they put their heads together, literally, are super-geniuses and are able to dream up the solutions to all of the world's problems. This is the main thread, but the novel is absolutely filled with the funniest, most bizarre series of narrative tangents ever put to paper. From variable gravity to the microscopic Chinese, Vonnegut takes you on the acid-trip of your life, all the while presenting the usual complete characterizations and spot-on riffs on contemporary society.
There's one section of this book that ALWAYS gets me, with the grotestque siblings pretending to be idiots to their parents and handlers, because their genius has told them this is the best way to get by in life. I dunno, I've read a lot and plan on reading plenty more, but I really do think that I will never read another book as purely good as this one. I hope I'm wrong, of course...but I don't think so.
on May 27, 2003
One-hundred year old, two meter tall Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, former President of the United States who won the election with the campaign slogan "Lonesome No More" sits in his home, the lobby floor of the Empire State Building, wearing a purple toga and writing about his life.
One hundred years before this day, four nippled, twelve-fingered and twelve-toed neanderthaloid twins Wilbur and his sister Eliza laid in the hospital far away from where anyone could see their horrid selves while the doctors conversed on what to do about them and determined that they would not live past 14 years of age.
Vonnegut pieces these two dates together marvelously in this bizarre but incredible novel. Not only is it a fascinating story that you will not want to put down, but it also illustrates some views that will make you really think on family, love, and society. For example, a fabulous quote from this book is "Please-a little less love, and a little more common decency."