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Jailbird: A Novel Paperback – January 12, 1999
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“[Vonnegut] is our strongest writer . . . the most stubbornly imaginative.”—John Irving
“A gem . . . a mature, imaginative novel—possibly the best he has written . . . Jailbird is a guided tour de force of America. Take it!”—Playboy
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Top Customer Reviews
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."
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I'll take this one every ten years for the rest of my life. Every read, a completely different book.