Customer Reviews


81 Reviews
5 star:
 (34)
4 star:
 (27)
3 star:
 (15)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars poignant portrait of fallen bureaucrat
Definitely the best of Vonnegut's novels that I've read, Jailbird is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, the smallest co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal. Having made his loyalties the best as he could, Walter finds himself in prison for withholding evidence against Nixon, even though he really had no true connection to him or respect from his fellow conspriators...
Published on April 2, 1999 by moroe(wrowe@epix.net)

versus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to his usual standard
Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this one. Vonnegut's deceptively simple prose was up to snuff and I was frequently amused by a well-turned phrase or unexpected observation. However, it too often came off like a by-the-numbers Vonnegut pastiche--yet another world-weary, ineffectual, passive observer wandering through a world of failure and hypocrisy.
Published on October 29, 2001 by David Bonesteel


‹ Previous | 1 29 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars poignant portrait of fallen bureaucrat, April 2, 1999
This review is from: Jailbird (Mass Market Paperback)
Definitely the best of Vonnegut's novels that I've read, Jailbird is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, the smallest co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal. Having made his loyalties the best as he could, Walter finds himself in prison for withholding evidence against Nixon, even though he really had no true connection to him or respect from his fellow conspriators. After prison, Walter falls once again, committing a crime that mirrors his Watergate involvement in quite a few ways, and he goes to jail for the second time.
Vonnegut's ingenious humor is present always in the book, and his prose is bedazzlingly perfect for the subject. Even though the novel may seem sentimental at times, that seems to be Vonnegut's purpose: his character is a sentimental man and bureaucrat. Readers should note that Vonnegut also uses some symbolism to perfect effect, making the book subtler than most Vonnegut novels. All these elements are Vonnegut at his best; he recreates, hilariously and perfectly, the political world of modern times.
Throughout the story, Jailbird provides a pitiful hero, knocked down over and over again by his own fault in the bureaucratic world he has chosen for his home. It seems not so much the facelessness of the bureacratic system that destroys Walter(a theme visited over and over again in too many books, movies, etc.) as his own attempts to try and become part of that system and his emotional view of this world as a place where people are always considerate; his own desire to be a successful, protected, and respected man is the thing that makes him loyal and willing for all the wrong reasons and to the wrong people. In the end, Walter F. Starbuck is a victim of himself, a "jailbird."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reading Jailbird is not a bad sentence, February 1, 2006
By 
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
Vonnegut writes another book with a slightly offbeat structure to it. Yes, Jailbird is a book that jumps from the present to the past and then to the future without a definite pattern that reminded me of a slightly demented stream of consciousness. Even with these random jumps between events I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, the random jumps were part of the reason I enjoyed the novel so much because at the end of the story all of the stories finally came together.

Obviously I had a few other reasons that made me give this book a rating of four stars. One of the major themes I located in Jailbird caught my interest. This theme is that when people act for themselves, ignoring money and other influences, they will be happier with the way their lives turn out. This theme was illustrated in the protagonist Walter Starbuck, who is both controlled and independent in different parts of the story.

This book immediately caught my attention because of the style in which it's written. Even though the story is written in first person it contains a disconnected tone to the whole story. Whenever major events in Walter Starbuck's life are described the description doesn't portray them as being as important as they should be. It reminded me a great deal of Slaughter House Five's "so it goes" comment whenever someone would die.

This is an interesting book for a multitude of different reasons. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Vonnegut's offbeat writing style. Even though this story is nothing like the books I normally read for enjoyment, it was definitely worth my time.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a comic Kafka for the end of the century, December 25, 2000
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
I enjoyed the 3 Kurt Vonnegut works I've read so far. This one cruises and rollicks along as well as any. The jokes, the unbelievable coincidences, and the compassionate fury at man's inhumanity to man, both the premeditated kind and that resulting from sheer stupidity and carelessness. The nasty and the rich and powerful get even nastier and richer and more powerful, while the innocent go to jail, and the idealists go out of their minds. The twists and turns of the plot keep you turning the page. As the best fiction often does, this novel tells human and societal truths better than a factional account. The main character, Walter F. Starbuck, is sponsored by an eccentric millionaire who stuttered and was universally despised - his stammer started after witnessing a massacre of workers in front of his father's factory. Moral: the sensitive man cannot protest, only stutter, and is looked on as a fool by all; is that not the way of the world? Grown-up, Starbuck becomes a socialist and joins the communist party, like thousands of others during the Depression era: what could be more natural? A few years later, being a communist becomes a crime against humanity, and Starbuck is interviewed by the commission. Unable to take this persecution of good intentions and high ideals seriously, Starbuck flippantly announces that a famous patriot was also a communist in those days, as were so many others. This offhand remark sends the patriot to jail and ruins his life, a fact which haunts Starbuck till the end of the story.
The story is full of ironic symbolism and is almost a comic allegory in its treatment of contemporary American society. High humanistic ideals and compassion become a crime; those guilty of it are prosecuted with fury. Starbuck's foolishness causes a man's ruin, but rather than rail against society for this, Starbuck is racked with guilt, undiluted by his own imprisonment years later due to Watergate (tho Starbuck's role in it is never explained and Vonnegut has a ball playing with Starbuck's tenuous connection with Nixon: his entire employment in the administration is in a basement office that no-one visits and hardly anyone knows about; Starbuck's reports (on "youth", a subject Starbuck knows little about) are accepted but never commented on in any way.
Vonnegut - a comic Kafka for the end of the century.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to his usual standard, October 29, 2001
By 
David Bonesteel (Fresno, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this one. Vonnegut's deceptively simple prose was up to snuff and I was frequently amused by a well-turned phrase or unexpected observation. However, it too often came off like a by-the-numbers Vonnegut pastiche--yet another world-weary, ineffectual, passive observer wandering through a world of failure and hypocrisy.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely Ironic, February 21, 2001
By 
George "George" (Butte, MT United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jailbird (Mass Market Paperback)
Jailbird is a truly unique and enjoyable novel. It is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, a man whose life was intertwined through Harvard, the Great Depression, communism, World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and Watergate. For a man to be so well connected to history, greatness or infamy would likely be concluded. Walter Starbuck attained neither. Vonnegut introduces the reader to Walter's pathetic life through a highly unusual structure. The story is told in first person from Walter's point of view, but it jumps from one part of his life to another in such a way that it nearly resembles stream of consciousness. Fortunately, it is easily read and his style is easily adapted to. Irony and humor are two constants throughout the novel. Sometimes Vonnegut uses them to make a cynical comment on the state of our society. Usually they add to the entertainment value of the novel and gain the readers interest. "The human condition in an exploding universe would not have been altered one iota if, rather than live as I have, I had done nothing but carry a rubber ice-cream cone from closet to closet," is a good representation of Vonnegut's humor. From a man with a "French-fried hand," to a harp showroom atop the Chrysler building, Jailbird is also permeated with surreal images which contribute to the dreamlike tone of the novel. I found Jailbird very intriguing and quite compelling. It is a good book for anyone who is interested in history, politics, or who enjoys cynical comedy. While the novel does center around several key political points in our nations history, Vonnegut avoids delving too deeply into personal politics and thus refrains from alienating certain readers. In Jailbird, Vonnegut uses cynical humor with a razor sharp edge to discuss social and philosophical issues. He provides a unique perspective into the most important political events of the past century, while also examining the role of the common individual in society. Jailbird is an unusual novel and definitely worth a read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Typos, but still Vonnegut, November 19, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Jailbird (Kindle Edition)
Not my favorite Vonnegut book, but it's still Vonnegut. I was put off by the many typos in the Kindle edition but you get what you pay for.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful look at how silly the idea of money is, May 20, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
Once again, Vonnegut the master satirist has put into words what everyone knows but just can't express. Just hearing his sensible and hilarious ramblings is enough for me. However, for those who are looking for a rather poignant look at the world we're living in and where we may go, I recommend this book. Read and think and learn and share.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The conscientious civil servant, August 21, 2004
By 
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
Walter F. Starbuck, the lovably pathetic hero of Kurt Vonnegut's "Jailbird," makes a potentially fascinating subject for a novel: son of immigrant servants of an eccentric wealthy man, Harvard graduate, ex-communist, well-meaning bureaucrat, squealer to the House Un-American Activities Committee, President Nixon's special advisor on youth affairs, and most recently a record company executive. Oh, and for two years following his service with Nixon he was a distinguished guest of the federal prison system for his circumstantial involvement in the Watergate scandal.

The novel is constructed almost like an autobiography in which Starbuck looks back on the vicissitudes of his life with fatalistic humor. The day that is clearest in his memory is the day he is released from his minimum-security incarceration and flies to New York to resume whatever remains of his life, and this day becomes quite momentous for him as he bumps into some old acquaintances who will change his fortunes possibly for the better.

Starbuck is a compassionate but unemotional observer of the consequences of war on both sides of the Atlantic. His wife Ruth was a Holocaust survivor whom he had saved from poverty when he met her in Nuremberg just after World War II, and his job in Nixon's administration as a youth culture watchdog was a response to the notorious gunning down of four student protesters at Kent State. Corporate encroachment on private enterprise is another theme, as Starbuck finds that the mysterious RAMJAC Corporation is acquiring everything from McDonald's to the New York Times.

"Jailbird" is not at all, as some might expect, a lampoon of Nixon's presidency, but a very general satire of the effects of governmental failure and mass corporatization on American society by the end of the transitional 1970s. This is a comical portrait of a well-educated but wishy-washy man who wanted to be a civil servant because he "believed that there could be no higher calling in a democracy than to a lifetime in government," became a communist pitying the downtrodden workers symbolized by the martyred Sacco and Vanzetti, joined a Republican administration, and eventually moved up to big business. Only in America, as they say.

Vonnegut's humor consists primarily of springing non sequiturs that shock by the nature of their contrast but whose significance becomes apparent later in the story; these can be very funny and clever at times, but after a while one longs for the subtlety of Evelyn Waugh or the erudition of Thomas Pynchon, both of which Vonnegut forgoes in his reckless attempts at meaningful absurdity. Still, "Jailbird" lacks nothing for which Vonnegut is famous; but what it does lack could have made it more than just another Vonnegut novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich With Irony, March 17, 2001
By 
Tom (Palatine, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Jailbird: A Novel (Paperback)
Vonnegut has a way of combining Orwell's eye with Updike's wit, and the sum is greater still, than the parts.
Jailbird takes readers on a long ride, beginning in WWII and ending somewhere in amoral corporate America, a land where friends come eaiser if you're the head of the "Downhome Records" division of the awesome RAMJAC Corporation.
Vonnegut tells a compelling tale, rich with ironic twists and tiny coincedences, all of which roll nicely into the growing snowball that Jailbird becomes.
Jailbird is a fabulous for Vonnegut first-timers, largely because it does not draw on past works the way many of his other classics do.
That said, if you are a Vonnegut reader, you quickly feel at home, comfortably but helplessly watching Walter Starbuck run his life into the ground.
How Vonnegut can paint the world of inalterable predestiny without any sense of cynicism is beyond me, but you never feel a sense of impending doom, only a happy, benign resignation.
All that must be, will be, yet, it's gotta be, so...why not.
This is a book you will reread countless times.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vonnegut at His Best, October 12, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Jailbird (Mass Market Paperback)
Anyone claiming that Vonnegut went into a "glut" in the 70's needs to have their reading glasses readjusted. Not only is this the best novel that Vonnegut wrote, it is the best novel I've ever read. After comparing "Jailbird" to Vonnegut classics such as "Breakfast of Champions", "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle", I see no reason not to believe that this is Vonnegut's best work yet. As usual Vonnegut strikes a major blow on the wealthy, the crazy, and the losers of this world. Even Kilgore Trout steps in to make a brief appearance. Whether you are a Vonnegut fan or not this is a must read novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 29 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Jailbird: A Novel
Jailbird: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut (Paperback - January 12, 1999)
$16.00 $12.24
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.