This household lost a family member today with the passing of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I call him family because he has been every bit the influence on Kristy and me and, subsequently, The Quartet, as a mother, father or grandparent. He will be missed with an unspeakable sadness.
In my very early 20s I would sit around with friends, listening to them discuss books and authors. This was before I was a reader. I would sit in the living room Kristy and I shared with another couple, before we were married, as though I were at a tennis match. My head moved back and forth as names and characters and plots were volleyed. One topic that always caught my attention was Vonnegut, specifically the fact that he had several of the same minor characters showing up in different books. My good friend Jim explained it as though our living room area rug was the world of Kurt Vonnegut’s mind, and he was able to take a glass (here, Jim took a glass) and put it over any random spot on the rug and write about what was happening under that glass at that instant. And that intrigued me enough to borrow one of his books, I think it was Cat’s Cradle. And from that moment on I was a reader. Kurt Vonnegut taught me to read.
Much will be said upon his passing regarding his politics, but I never read his novels for their political statements. I don’t really care what his political leaning was. As far as I can tell his beliefs were rooted in his abhorrence of violence and bewilderment by the absurdity of human nature, both perfectly logical tenets to me. I simply enjoyed his stories and characters, he entertained me endlessly and still does. And this is why I read anyway.
I have a vivid memory of my mother lying on the couch crying when John Lennon was killed. Lennon’s life and career were cut short, while Vonnegut lived a long and full life, but his death has had the same effect on me. My children didn’t witness my own silent mourning when I got the news, but this evening at bedtime, instead of reading them Curious George or Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus, I read them “Harrison Bergeron” from Welcome To The Monkey House. I explained to them that one of Mommy and Daddy’s favorite writers had died today, and S, to make sense of it all, and in a way I’m sure Mr. Vonnegut would have found oddly pleasing, said, “Like Jesus on Easter?” Just like that, I told her. The story, of course, is about how beautiful life can be when people trapped in a world of mediocrity think and act for themselves. I picked the story quite by accident, but it couldn’t be more fitting to describe the man. In our world of 24-hour “entertainment news,” shock talk on the airwaves, overpaid sports stars and narcissistic weblogs, we have been privileged with the work of a man who was a true original. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.