2 min read

The Satirical Swamp

The Satirical Swamp
Jailbird by Vonnegut. This is a relatively recent Penguin books cover.

Sometimes, Winter and Summer scheme to squash Spring, swapping from freezing cold to sweltering heat with little in between. Wisconsin seems to have been caught in one of these tricky turns, with March and April spent nose-to-nose with icy temps throughout. May, hopefully, will bring a sudden lurch back towards sanity, or, more likely, an overcorrection into humid heatwaves.

Flowers will bloom and I'll cower inside with the air conditioning.

One quick news bit - if you're a shopper of Smashwords, that bastion for small booksellers and indie authors, you can now find my works there too. It's a neat storefront, one that also helps authors get into worldwide distribution to libraries and international markets. Worth checking out if you're looking for a different reading home.

Anyway - on to Mr. Vonnegut!

There are authors that require a certain expectation setting when you sit down with one of their novels. Kurt Vonnegut, along with Douglas Adams and a few others, necessitates this. Go in looking for a story and wind up with a collection of interconnected anecdotes redefining bizarre. Jailbird, like Slapstick, takes the absurd and magnifies it. While both books start with an older man looking back on a life surreally spent, Jailbird couches itself in slightly less ridiculous circumstances (no Mars missions and tiny people here).

The narrator spends our time circling around the four major loves of his life, though Vonnegut isn’t much for romance. The viewing comes off as detached, a distance that comes off as slightly comic, as though the narrator can’t believe his own situation, just like us. It’s a fun device, one that makes you feel like you’re in on the joke along with Vonnegut. If there’s a downside, it’s that I read the book in a constant state of bemusement, unable to really give much of a crap about any of the characters.

And perhaps that’s the point! All the people in this book seem to wind up where they are due to chance. Few are qualified for the positions they wind up holding, noble endeavors backfire or fail spectacularly, and unintended consequences are many and severe. It’s a chaotic view of life, one played up for laughs at times in here, but beneath all of it there’s a faint whiff of fear: if nothing much we do matters, and nothing much makes sense, then why bother caring at all?