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The 16 previously unpublished short stories of this collection, taken from the beginning of Vonnegut's career, show a young author already grappling with themes and ideas that would define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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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 The 16 unpublished stories in this collection were either not submitted or not accepted, although it is easy to imagine them appearing in those contexts.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
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