Douglas James Troxell
God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut
Most writers have a favorite author, someone who inspired them to start creating their own tales or influenced their writing style.
For me, that writer is Kurt Vonnegut.
I read my first Vonnegut novel in college. I was a hipster English major so I was reading through all the classic novels I was supposed to read so I could be all snobby about it. Like most, my first Vonnegut novel was Slaughterhouse-Five. I don't remember being overly impressed. I think I was confused more than anything else.
The language was simple and minimalist, the plot ridiculous and confusing, and the tone was different than any war novel I had ever read. It was poignant, hilarious, and heart-shatteringly sad all at the same time. It was a paradox that seemed impossible but somehow Vonnegut made it work.
I didn't come to fully appreciate Kurt until I learned about his experience in Dresden. How anyone who saw the horrors that he did could find humor in anything completely blew me away. To me, it spoke of the endurance of the human spirit. It made me feel better about human beings in general.
I wasn't impressed with Vonnegut as a writer until I read Cat's Cradle, which is still my favorite Vonnegut novel and one of my favorite novels of all time. There was the trademark black humor, the cutting social commentary, and the memorable whacky characters. There's the classic anti-war themes, but he also deals with several philosophical debates in interesting ways. It's also the most coherent plot of any Vonnegut novel.
After that, I fell in love with Kurt's voice. After college, I made it my mission to read every single Vonnegut novel and short story. No one reads Vonnegut novels for the plots. You read them to have a conversation with Kurt. You laugh with him, you cry with him, you listen to him philosophize and show you how awful human beings are but explain why we shouldn't give up on them. Kurt understood human beings more than any other writer I've ever read.
One of the saddest days of my adult life was the day I finished reading the last Vonnegut novel I had yet to read. I had read every word Kurt had published. So it goes. Our conversations were over. Kurt would never have anything new to tell me. But I knew if I ever wanted to sit down and chat with my old friend, all I would have to do is visit my bookshelf.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut, and thanks for everything!
My latest novel, Cheshire Moon, is dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut. It's a dark comedy that explores the importance of laughing in a world dominated by constant tragedy. Check it out here.