Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

This is my fourth romp through the pages of Vonnegut.  A guilty pleasure, I am learning.  There are some that go to the beach and they bring their ragged trade paperbacks of Dan Brown, Ian Fleming, Michael Connolly and so on... for that semi-mindless pleasure read.  Vonnegut represents something not completely dissimilar to me.  Vonnegut books are crammed with quirkiness and obscure anecdotes and while most stories to me are enjoyable, I doubt that many ideas span the length of time and definitely do not compare to the generally well-known classics that I am accustomed to digesting.  His books, with a quirky intelligence, provide a semblance of value in their cynical nature.

As per normal custom, I knew nothing about this book when I bought it.  What really intrigued me about this edition I found in Kitchener was that there was a stamp that said 'Parkwood Hospital' in the front and back end pieces.  My brain got a chuckle out of this because I envisioned this book being in a mental institution.  I thought Vonnegut would be happy about this.  I was happy about this.  I just shattered my thoughts on this premise though, because I found out it is just another hospital in St. Joes London.  Now all I can wonder is who took the book from there and sold it in Kitchener... or what rounds it made before it wound up on a shelf in my little condo.  The one thing that makes me happy about this still, is that a hospital thought to stock their shelves with Vonnegut instead of some more useless drivel.  I wonder who had a hand in this or if they just found it lying around somewhere from a patient or visitor that left it sitting somewhere.  No point to this tirade of mine.  Tangent over.  So it goes.

The book was about a man named Walter F. Starbuck who was put in jail after his 'role' in Watergate in the 70's.  You will learn nothing about Watergate from this book - just so you know.  It is about the life of Walter F. Starbuck.  And now I begin with the **SPOILERS** part of the review - though I will not go into tremendous detail.

Vonnegut cynicism is in full view.  The media and papers publish nothing but crap.  There is a good part about magazines and how even the magazine 'People' really doesn't talk about people at all (Page Ref: 158).  It's just drivel.  Agreed.  The book talks a lot about big business, through the lens of the RAMJAC corporation who owns 19% of the world's business interests.  It is run by a woman who nobody knows, who turns out to be a bag lady who roams the streets of New York City.  Walter F. Starbuck once had a relationship with this woman.  He finds this out later.  This bag lady is probably the richest person in the world.

The concept of her corporation was to make the world better - though all it really did was make a lot of money.  In the end, she tries to give it back to the people which just means the government gets it and hires a bunch of lawyers to sell the pieces to other corporations.  Very bleak and slightly Darwinian of Mr. Vonnegut.  I can't say I disagree that this would be exactly what would happen. 

The infamous Science Fiction writer, Kilgore Trout makes another appearance, as he always does in the works of Vonnegut.  He is thrown in there as a trademark.  While Wikipedia states he is vital to the story, this is a falsehood probably made up by a VP (everyone is a VP in this book - which makes me laugh in reference to the banks or other similarly structured companies I have worked in) in RAMJAC in order to stir up interest in the work, which they inevitably own.

I mix up the story with my review because to prove a point.  Vonnegut does this.  He mixes up actual fact with fiction (on purpose, of course) - which shows the lens in which he views the world.  It is cynical, but intelligent.  It is humorous, but rooted in morals.  And it's something that I would read on a beach instead of the latest crime thriller.  Deeper than shallow, lighter than heavy.

[This doesn't really fit anywhere, but there was a great part about Einstein undergoing an audit by accountants when he made it up to heaven because the auditors insisted that he must believe that life is great before they let him in.  They stated that there were so many opportunities he could have taken advantage in life to make him richer - and thus make him more successful.  My brain laughed at this.  Hard.]

' "Jesus may have said that," I told Larkin, "but it is so unlike most of what else He said that I have to conclude that He was slightly crazy that day." ' 38

"every successful government is of necessity a Ponzi scheme.  It accepts enormous loans that can never be repaid." 51   (Parenthetically, this struck a chord with me when I first read the concept here)

"The tragedy of the planet was that its scientists found ways to extract time from topsoil and the oceans and the atmosphere - to heat their homes and power their speedboats and fertilize their crops with it; to eat it; to make clothes out of it; and so on.  They served time at every meal, fed it to household pets, just to demonstrate how rich and clever they were.  They allowed great gobbets of it to putrefy to oblivion in their overflowing garbage cans." 56  (I assume he is talking about oil here - love the implied metaphor)

"The economy is a thoughtless weather system - and nothing more." 231

"Frank invented a new sort of cash register for the McDonald's Hamburgers Division.  It was getting harder all the time to find employees who understood numbers well, so Frank took the numbers off the keys of the cash register and substituted pictures of hamburgers and milkshakes and French fries and Coca-Colas and so on." 232

"We are here for no purpose, unless we can invent one." 236


Heather said...

I am a big fan of Vonnegut -- he's one of my favorites. I don't think I've ever read one of his books that I didn't like. Good review.

Elizabeth said...

What great posts your blog has. I am an old follower, but am going to subscribe by e-mail so I don't miss any of your posts. They are GREAT!!

Have a great week.


The Great Catsby said...

Love love love me some Vonnegut. Nice post, loved to see all the quotes.