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4.0 out of 5 stars While Mortals Sleep is brilliantly simple and very Vonnegut, April 1, 2011
This review is from: While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction (Hardcover)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. Each story generally focuses on a moral lesson of one main character who Vonnegut introduces by throwing readers immediately into their lives and their moral dilemmas. By the end of the story, Vonnegut has solved the moral dilemma without even having to write it down in black and white. All of these stories are about the simple things in life, but more importantly, the stories never end without a sudden, imaginative, feel-good twist, and this book is definitely one that leaves its readers feeling good. I would normally not choose a short story collection over a novel, but Vonnegut's short stories are so captivating that they do not read like separate stories, but rather like a novel in which several different characters in different places at different times are all working toward some common goal. While Mortals Sleep is no doubt a fast read, but it is well worth a spot on the bookshelf. I also enjoyed the forward by Dave Eggers, also a lifelong Vonnegut fan. He discusses Vonnegut's life trials as giving him the right to be a moralist and to encourage people to be better through his writing. Vonnegut has been known for making very important social comments and points in a very straightforward manner, and these short stories definitely reflect this.

I especially recommend the title story, "While Mortals Sleep," which falls near the middle of the collection. It is about a man, Fred Hackleman, who is the editor of a newspaper. Hackleman is always interested in the next big story to print. He is a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, hating Christmas as it reflects the influence of capitalism on the world and gets in the way of finding real news. He is forced to judge a Christmas light contest, and the narrator of the story, one of Hackleman's employees, tells readers the incredibly humorous and warming events that take place. It should leave you with goose bumps. Vonnegut has woven cynicism, commentary on capitalism, humor, and unexpected Christmas carols into this story quite successfully, and all in just 22 pages. All of the stories contain these elements, without Christmas carols of course, and with other things such as family matters and unexpected bravery. Some of my other favorite stories were "Jenny," "Hundred-Dollar Kisses," "Ruth," and "Out, Brief Candle."

What is even more satisfying about this book is that it is filled with Kurt Vonnegut's own illustrations, including the cover. Although the titles and illustrations do not always make sense, or fit into a tidy box, they are giftedly Vonnegut. They beg the reader to dig a little in order to find the deeper meaning and to use their imaginations and thinking powers; they also encourage a good laugh every now and again. These stories will stick with you long after you have read them just as Vonnegut has stuck with the world of literature four years after his death, and rightfully so.
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