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Books: A formerly good writer

Books | Vonnegut has nothing left but his humanism

Issue: "Exodus from Disney," Nov. 7, 1998

Kurt Vonnegut, as everyone knows, is one of our greatest living American authors. A car salesman before making it as a writer, he is the author of 13 previous novels. His classic WWII story, Slaughterhouse Five, is listed as No. 18 on the Modern Library list of the 100 greatest English-language novels of the 20th century. Anything that comes from his pen is deemed significant. Timequake is significant, but not for the reasons you might think. At age 75, Mr. Vonnegut declares that Timequake will be his last novel. So the critics are served notice: Here comes an important book. The dust-cover blurb leads the buyer to believe that it is a story about a timequake: On Feb. 13, 2001, the expanding universe suddenly shrinks back to Feb. 17, 1991, and everyone has to endure a 10-year rerun without free will. When the ride is over, nobody knows how to drive anymore and chaos erupts. But when you read the Prologue, you find out the truth. After 10 years of labor on the original version of Timequake, Mr. Vonnegut writes, "I found myself in the winter of 1996 the creator of a novel which did not work, which had no point, which never wanted to be written in the first place." At that point, an author with a shred of integrity would have thrown in the towel. Not Kurt Vonnegut. Instead of a story, he offers us "a stew made from [the novel's] best parts mixed with thoughts and experiences during the past seven months or so." Here's a thought: "Chicago is a better city than New York because Chicago has alleys" (p. 210). This, plus random fragments of a failed novel for 219 pages. Nevertheless, two things are important in regard to Timequake. First, its publication confirms once again a truth about the state of American publishing discussed previously in WORLD (July 4/11, 1998). The industry is driven by bean-counters. Book publishing has always been a business, of course, but traditionally it has been a business run by book people who cared about quality writing. They would take risks with unknown authors and develop them through six or seven money-losing novels until they found their voice and their audience. No more. Multinational conglomerates have bought up the formerly family-owned publishing houses and now financial folk who check the books but don't read them are in charge of publishing decisions. The name Kurt Vonnegut on the cover will guarantee a predictable number of sales and secure a profit, no matter how bad the writing. In this case, you can tell a book by its cover: The author's name is far bigger than the title. So, Kurt Vonnegut is published, and a talented but less-known writer is denied a chance. As Mr. Vonnegut so trenchantly observes, "Business is business." But there is a deeper significance at work here. Mr. Vonnegut announces he is honorary president of the American Humanist Association. "We are numerous," he writes. "Humanists try to behave decently and honorably without any expectation of rewards or punishment in an afterlife. The creator of the Universe has been to us unknowable so far." The AHA is a politburo for the entire spectrum of left-wing political causes and philosophies based on secular humanism, including abortion, evolution, euthanasia, socialism, environmentalism, and world government. In case you wondered, this is the philosophical source of ideas that link the Oklahoma City bombing to "hate radio," and the murder of a University of Wyoming homosexual to conservative Christianity. The leftist-dominated literary establishment must publish and promote a high-profile humanist like Kurt Vonnegut, in order to advance its anti-Christian agenda through the book industry. Of course the AHA has already had great success in promoting its goals through legislation and the courts. The AHA honorary president even proposes a socialist amendment to the U.S. Constitution. "Article XXIX: Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage." Come to think of it, maybe it's not such a bad idea. Perhaps it's time for Kurt Vonnegut to quit writing and go back to selling cars.

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