Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut Gone

NYTimes obit

I won't go on about how sad it is, as it strikes me as much the same as when Elvis died - a man whose best work was long past, so it's really not very sad at all. And I won't go on about how he was one of the greatest American writers of all time; he was far from that, even at the height of his accomplishment.


There was a way in which he epitomized his age - jaded, cynical, haunted, but jaunty and sardonic. When not getting all misty-eyed about the Greatest Generation, what other adjectives could we reasonably apply to the people who lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, and who then got to wrap up their middle adult years with Vietnam and Watergate? They were bound to be broken, worn out, damaged goods, full of pessimism and, at best, resignation. And if all the truths they had to tell us were ugly ones, they were, almost in spite of themselves, truths nonetheless. His was the generation, or even two, before mine, so I always felt him and his literary characters to be distant and somehow unreal, perhaps even slightly ridiculous.


You needn't spend too much time doing the math to figure out to whose generation he did belong - my father's. Like Mr. Vonnegut, my father experienced whatever meager happiness he had in life while on Long Island. If I could never fully understand or admire Billy Pilgrim or Mr. Vonnegut, his imagination and skill did help me sympathize more with my own father and all the alienation and pain he felt in his life. I hope they're together tonight, shrouded in celestial cigarette smoke, bitching endlessly but with mostly good humor, as they were both so wont to do.


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