Top critical review
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Not one of his better books
on August 25, 2008
I have mixed feelings about Kurt Vonnegut. I always admire the way he writes - his ability to propel me through a book, quickly and effortlessly. I know there will be a few good laughs, some heart-wrenching tragedy, and some wry or clever social commentary. When he is at the top of his game, he is one of the best. I really enjoyed Breakfast of Champions and I consider Slaughterhouse Five to be a masterpiece. So every couple of years, I read another Vonnegut book, hoping to recapture that magic.
But here's the thing - while I like the way Vonnegut writes, I often find myself not really liking the actual story. The plot devices are too silly, too cute, or too absurd to be taken seriously. Or worse, the jokes fall flat or the satire is uninspired.
Slapstick has all of these faults with none of the rewards. After 25 pages, I knew the book was a dud and seriously thought about putting it down. But it is just so easy to read, I kept on, hoping it would improve. But to no avail. If anything, it lost momentum about half-way through the book, when the Wilbur's twin sister, Eliza, moves out of the story. Overall, the plot is foolish and ridiculous. The funny parts aren't that funny, and the sad parts are only occasionally poignant or tragic. Finally, the satire isn't clever or insightful; rather, it feels obligatory and halfhearted.
So I kept thinking, what is the point of this book? That Kurt Vonnegut mourns the loss of his sister, the one person he wrote for? While her death is sad, Slapstick only hints at his pain, so the reader never fully appreciates the extent of his loss.
Perhaps the point is that simple human decency is desirable and the cornerstone of a functional society. Okay. But I already knew that, and this book didn't really do much to show me why I need a reminder.
I found out soon after reading Slapstick that Vonnegut considered it to be one of his worst books. If you love Vonnegut, go ahead and give it a whirl. You'll plow through it in a couple of hours. But if you are new to Vonnegut or just lukewarm on him, give this one a pass.