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While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction Hardcover – January 25, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 16 previously unpublished short stories of this collection, taken from the beginning of Vonnegut's career, show a young author already grappling with themes and ideas that would define his work for decades to come. "Girl Pool" features typist Amy Lou Little, employee of the Kafkaesque Montezuma Forge and Foundry Company, who is tasked with transcribing a plea for help she receives on her Dictaphone from an escaped, dying murderer hiding somewhere in the works of the company's cavernous factory. The tale reveals Vonnegut investigating one of his recurring themes: the isolation brought by technology and the necessity for basic humanity in the workplace. The title story melds a sentimental meditation on the true meaning of Christmas with elements of the mystery genre as a hard-nosed reporter stalks the story of stolen nativity scene characters. While these early stories show an author still testing the boundaries of his craft and obsessions, Vonnegut's acute moral sense and knack for compelling prose are very much on display. In the foreword, Dave Eggers calls Vonnegut "a hippie Mark Twain," which perfectly captures an essential truth about this esteemed author. (Jan.) (c)
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From Booklist

Early in his career, before he fused his satirical wit and world-weary intellect in the distinctive, quasi-sf style of Cat’s Cradle (1963) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Vonnegut wrote short stories for mainstream publications, such as Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. The 16 unpublished stories in this collection were either not submitted or not accepted, although it is easy to imagine them appearing in those contexts. Tightly and crisply written, they concern cynical newspapermen and the spirit of Christmas (“While Mortals Sleep”), practical jokes taken too far (“Bomar”), the self-sacrifice of a pregnant widow (“Ruth”)—he had lived through the firebombing of Dresden but had not yet explored it in fiction. There are foreshadowings of Vonnegut the cynical sage, however, in “With His Hand on the Throttle,” when a woman dive-bombs her grown son’s overgrown train layout; in “Tango,” when libidinous dancing disrupts a WASP-y enclave; and in “Girl Pool,” in which alienation arrives via the Dictaphone. As in Look at the Birdie (2009), these stories, while clearly seminal, constitute a worthwhile contribution to the author’s oeuvre. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The legendary author’s death in 2007 means an eventual end to unpublished writings, and Vonnegut fans have read all their old paperbacks to tatters. --Keir Graff

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, among them: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House; a collection of short stories (1968), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988) and Hocus Pocus (1990). During the Second World War he was held prisoner in Germany and was present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience which provided the setting for his most famous work to date, Slaughterhouse Five (1969). He has also published a volume of autobiography entitled Palm Sunday (1981) and a collection of essays and speeches, Fates Worse Than Death (1991).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kurt Vonnegut died in the early part of the twenty-first century, but he belonged to the twentieth century. He could have easily died in that conflict that split the century in two; he could have perished in the flames and rubble of Dresden. He didn't, and American culture is better for it. It is better in the same way that American culture of the nineteenth century is better because a young Confederate soldier lived through that conflict that split the country in two - young Samuel Clemens.

I have always maintained the parallel between the two men. They were writers, yes. But they were more than writers. They represented the slanted moral voice that could laugh at itself and the culture. These voices were in earnest though; they lacked the facile surface-grazing of the postmodern condition. They speak a truth where writers are afraid to talk about whether you can even capitalize that `t' now.

Kurt Vonnegut died, and his was the only celebrity death I have mourned in a long time. I had long been meaning to make a pilgrimage to his neighborhood. I wanted to intercept him on the street as he walked to the post office or the local bodega to buy his cigarettes. I wanted to stop him and just say "Thank you".

Vonnegut died and left a hole in the soul of America, but he lives on. Thankfully he was prolific and lived long. There have now been three books published since his death. These books are different, but they all show why I love Kurt Vonnegut.

First published was a book of the older stuff, work for websites and highlights of his art. We were able to see the full fruit and flower of a life that spanned an eventful century. Then they put out a collection of his earlier work, including the germ of the story that became _Slaughterhouse-V_.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection is a mixed bag of bad, forgettable, and good stories. I would have stopped reading this book after the first story had it not been the chosen book for my book club. After trekking on, I did find a short story, The Epizootic, that piqued my interested and imagination and after that I found a few more interesting stories. Ultimately this book has stories that Vonnegut may have not wanted published together since they're rather forgettable but it does have a few gems. Our book club discussion was wonderful as we talked about some universal themes despite the quite dated references in the stories. If you're a fan of short stories, give this book a try since there are some good stories, just be prepared for feeling like a few other stories were a waste of your time.
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Format: Hardcover
Those who come to this collection expecting it to have the style and satirical tone of later Vonnegut will likely be disappointed. But if you love the plain sentiment of his early stories (as I do) then this is a treasure box, and fans will get a kick out of seeing many of his familiar themes in their early forms. The better ones here certainly stand up to many of those familiar to readers of 'Welcome to the Monkey House'. None of the stories are his very best, but hey, a lesser Vonnegut story still whips the pants off of most anything else.
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Format: Hardcover
These stories are recognisably Vonnegut, but they are not equal to the short stories he did sell, let alone his more mature novels. You can see the same themes and style, but also that he hasn't quite perfected his art yet. Charming, in a way, like footage of a great athlete or musician when they were just starting out.

For dedicated fans or scholars only.
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Format: Hardcover
Kurt Vonnegut passed away in April of 2007, but his short story collection titled While Mortals Sleep was published posthumously in this year, 2011. When I saw this book lying on a table titled "New Fiction" at the book store, I immediately recognized it as being a Vonnegut work and was nothing short of elated. I fell in love with Vonnegut as an author the very first time I read him. I have shared him with my brother and I wear one of his warnings for society on my bag everywhere I go. My first Vonnegut read was The Sirens of Titan, which could not be more appropriate as it was also his first novel. While Mortals Sleep contains 16 short stories that were written early in Vonnegut's career, before he became a must-read novelist. Despite this, they are much related to his later works which were often classified as science fiction, satires, and social commentaries.

Picking up While Mortals Sleep was like taking a time machine back into Vonnegut's writing, and I would not have wanted to read him any other way. Reading his heavier novels and then picking up these more innocent stories showed a lighter, but still very subtly deep side of one of my favorite authors. For those who find themselves having a harder time getting into his complex science fiction plots, though, I do recommend reading his short stories. I guarantee that this is an easy way to fall in love with Vonnegut, and to see his efforts at advocating for people to make positive changes before we destroy ourselves and the world.

The stories range in length from eight to 22 pages, but in this short time, I, as a reader, felt extremely invested in his incredibly unique characters.
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