Bye-bye Kurt

Dammit, we lost a brilliant writer this week when Kurt Vonnegut slipped away, exchanging mortal body for immortal words. Of the many good writers we’ve been lucky to have it is given to only a select few of them to become that rare thing, the immortal, a writer who has books which are read and re-read across the years by a whole range of people, from the SF fan to the purveyor of ‘serious’ literature (here’s a shock, those two can often be the same). As long as people are reading they will still be picking up books like Slaughterhouse Five; they’ll still be teaching it in schools and college students will still be doing papers on it. Very few writers achieve that level of cultural penetration. Kurt took something awful, the fire bombing of Dresden which he saw as a POW during WWII, and took something of those fires within himself to fuel his writing (Slaughterhouse remains one of those books you should read. I know I’ve said that about a lot of books, but it is; there’s a good reason it comes up as one of the most important novels of the 20th century).

Just the other year at 83 Kurt stirred himself out of retirement (does a writer ever really retire? I doubt the urge to put words together to express yourself ever truly dies) with a short story collection A Man Without A Country, driven by anger at Bush and the dire effects on America and the world that odious chimp has had. I hope I’m still feeling the urge to stick it to the man when I reach that age (although it would be preferable if by then we all learned to be nice to one another and I didn’t have anything to have a go at; gladly would I hang up my sarcastic barbs for that to happen). In an interview I found on In These Times he express his disgust with Bush’s policies: “I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been.” Cool and clever to the end. By curious coincidence some of the folks in the book group were just talking a few days ago about how we should cover one of Kurt’s books; he is one of those writers that a lot of people think that about – why not just do it? Pick yourself up a copy of Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse Five, sit down, read it. Then pass it on and spread the words.

On a related not Ariel and I were discussing how odd Kurt would die from ‘brain injuries’ a few weeks after an accident which came after this respected elder statesman of American letters (and a veteran who actually served unlike the current chimp-in-chief) so publically attacked Bush’s government. Natural causes or a sinister, shadowy conspiracy… Okay, probably not, but I’m sure somewhere right now it is being written up as such on some conspiracy blogs.