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Jailbird: A Novel Paperback – January 12, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 109 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“He has never been more satirically on-target. . . . Nothing is spared.”—People

“[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

From the Inside Flap

Jailbird takes us into a fractured  and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and  misdemeanors in government. . .and in the heart.  This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F.  Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to  the penitentiary as Watergate's least known  co-conspirator. But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut  shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and  calculated greed of the mighty, giving a razor-sharp  edge to an unforgettable portait of power and  politics in our times. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback (January 12, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385333900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333900
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Definitely the best of Vonnegut's novels that I've read, Jailbird is the story of Walter F. Starbuck, the smallest co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal. Having made his loyalties the best as he could, Walter finds himself in prison for withholding evidence against Nixon, even though he really had no true connection to him or respect from his fellow conspriators. After prison, Walter falls once again, committing a crime that mirrors his Watergate involvement in quite a few ways, and he goes to jail for the second time.
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."
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the 3 Kurt Vonnegut works I've read so far. This one cruises and rollicks along as well as any. The jokes, the unbelievable coincidences, and the compassionate fury at man's inhumanity to man, both the premeditated kind and that resulting from sheer stupidity and carelessness. The nasty and the rich and powerful get even nastier and richer and more powerful, while the innocent go to jail, and the idealists go out of their minds. The twists and turns of the plot keep you turning the page. As the best fiction often does, this novel tells human and societal truths better than a factional account. The main character, Walter F. Starbuck, is sponsored by an eccentric millionaire who stuttered and was universally despised - his stammer started after witnessing a massacre of workers in front of his father's factory. Moral: the sensitive man cannot protest, only stutter, and is looked on as a fool by all; is that not the way of the world? Grown-up, Starbuck becomes a socialist and joins the communist party, like thousands of others during the Depression era: what could be more natural? A few years later, being a communist becomes a crime against humanity, and Starbuck is interviewed by the commission. Unable to take this persecution of good intentions and high ideals seriously, Starbuck flippantly announces that a famous patriot was also a communist in those days, as were so many others. This offhand remark sends the patriot to jail and ruins his life, a fact which haunts Starbuck till the end of the story.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Vonnegut writes another book with a slightly offbeat structure to it. Yes, Jailbird is a book that jumps from the present to the past and then to the future without a definite pattern that reminded me of a slightly demented stream of consciousness. Even with these random jumps between events I still thoroughly enjoyed the book. In fact, the random jumps were part of the reason I enjoyed the novel so much because at the end of the story all of the stories finally came together.

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.
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