Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Armageddon In Retrospect
In his latter years, Vonnegut started to repeat himself. Not like an old man who can't quite remember that he's told you the story before, but like an old man who has worked out just what ideas are important, and has stop bothering with the rest.
Community, Marx and Jesus, humanism, semi-colons. All these reappear in Vonnegut's speech at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, included here. But there's one repeated theme, more important in Vonnegut's writing than anything else, that holds Armageddon In Retrospect together.
War. Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden when it was fire-bombed by the allies. That bombing raid, on an 'open city,' had a higher deathcount than Hiroshima, but Vonnegut himself survived it. He was in the deep cellar of Schlachthauf Funf. Slaugherhouse Five, that is.
They say every writer has one book they are writing, all their life. Indeed, when anybody asked Vonnegut what he was writing, he would tell them: the Dresden book. The war book. Never mind the dozen other novels he must have spent a little time on.
Though Slaughterhouse Five is that book -- the one book that Kurt Vonnegut was a writer for -- the collected short stories in Armageddon In Retrospect study the same themes, albeit it on a lesser scale. And as is often the case, the smaller pictures side by side say as much as the full-size masterpiece on its own.
Every story is about war; more often, about the end of war; most often, about the individuals trapped in the immediate aftermath of war. There's as much cohesion here as in many of Vonnegut's novels. Far from being a cash-in collection of errata and pieces better left unpublished, as post-humous collections so often are, Armageddon In Retrospect can hold it's head up high in the top tier of Vonnegut's excellent canon.