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We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  1,487 Ratings  ·  206 Reviews
Called “our finest black-humorist” by The Atlantic Monthly, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now his first and last works come together for the first time in print, in a collection aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be.

Written to be sold under the pseudonym of “Mark Harvey,” Basic Training was never pu
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Vanguard Press (first published September 18th 2012)
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Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books, fiction
First of all, I'm not rating We Are What We Pretend to Be as a Vonnegut book. If I were, I'd probably give it a lower score. Not because it isn't any good, but rather that it isn't a great Vonnegut book. Also, it wouldn't be fair. To keep our rating criteria fair, after all, we have to rate any given thing as a thing in its own right, right?

Okay, so I'm rating this book for the overall reading experience, which, unavoidably, is influenced by my status as a longtime Vonnegut fan. I know this see
J.L.   Sutton
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This collection contains some of Vonnegut's first and last writing. Quick read, but full of insight and Vonnegut's wry sense of humor. It's also interesting to see how the themes in Vonnegut's works are there at the beginning and end of his writing career.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Hardcore Vonnegut fans
Recommended to Eric by: Library
Shelves: kurt-vonnegut
I saw this slim volume in my local library and couldn't resist picking it up, as it was unfamiliar to me, a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. When I got home with it, I realized I already read the first half of it when it was released as a Kindle Single (review here).

The second half is the unfinished novel Vonnegut was working on at the time of his death. The main character, Gil Berman, is supposed to be an edgy comedian in the Lenny Bruce mold, but sadly comes off as a mouthpiece for a frustrated, fed up,
Lila Vogt
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I admit I am a lifelong fan of Kurt Vonnegut. His sometimes angry, but realistic and satirical depiction of American politics, values, apathy and his consistent anti-war stance all appeal to me.

This book contains the first story he wrote in the 40's, Basic Training. He had never found a publisher before, but I found it very engaging. It is a pretty straightforward narrative, and greatly enhanced by the commentary provided by his daughter in the forward.

His last work, unfinished at the time of h
Svetla Angelova
Oct 11, 2012 marked it as to-read
Когато умира през 2007 г., Вонегът оставя един роман недовършен. Това е „If God Were Alive Today” – брутална сатира за арогантността сред хората и затварянето на очите пред най-големите проблеми на човечеството. Главният персонаж е университетски преподавател, който се самопровъзгласява за комедиант и се шегува с обществените проблеми и апокалипсиса в пълните университетски аули. Асоциацията със самия автор е неизбежна.

Нанет Вонегът публикува ръкописите за първи път. Тя добавя предговор, както и
Adam Floridia
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Because of my long-standing love, respect, and admiration for Kurt Vonnegut, I cannot bring myself to write a real review of this. His first novella was not previously published; his final work is a work in progress. For the purposes of rating, I'm just giving this a meaningless 3*/5.
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though not a literary tour de force, or groundbreaking social commentary, daugher Annette Vonnegut, introduces one of Kurt Vonnegut's first works and his last, unfinished novel. You'll recognize emergent themes of trust and trust betrayed, absurdity and humanity in Basic Training: A Novella. There's also a good bit of early autobiography, as a young Haley Brandon struggles with a parent's sudden death and finding his way forward in nine short chapters.

The final and unfinished work of one of Ame
Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read my most recent Kurt Vonnegut novel under eerily similar circumstances. I'd just left my wife and was going back to school, about this time two years ago when I'd read The Monkey House. Thankfully, we now have an immigration lawyer so that part of my life should be moving along smoothly soon.

... random aside! The book itself.

I enjoyed the two pieces in this collection. It was interesting to read his first and last work together. I feel like Vonnegut writes his characters so compassionately
Thomas Maluck
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
The first story, "Basic Training," was something of a gem, if only to witness a frayed and undeveloped Vonnegut still finding his voice. The story itself is fine, if lacking Vonnegut's usual wit, but it is a harmless pleasure and a formative step in his writing career. With that and daughter Nanette's introduction, all this collection had to do was provide a tragically short glimpse at the chapters of his unfinished last novel and I would surrender a 3 or 4 star rating. Instead, the few chapters ...more
M.R. Dowsing
Nov 17, 2012 rated it liked it
There have been a number of Vonnegut books published since his death, a couple of which (Armageddon In Retrospect and Where Mortals Sleep) were surprisingly strong collections, another of which (Look At The Birdie) was rather weak. Given that this new volume contains his first ever work, Basic Training, and all that survives of a final novel (six chapters of If God Were Alive Today), I suspect that the well has finally run dry as far as his fiction goes (a collection of his letters is on the way ...more
May 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I've never read anything by this author, so I thought this would be a good place to start. The opening short novel is nice with a bit of humor. I was expecting something odd, offbeat, perhaps a bit darker and the second short work delivered. The first portion had younger characters, the second older and wiser/beaten. I particularly enjoyed the Prologue written by his daughter. Now on to something in between: Slaughterhouse-Five! (I'm surprised I didn't get around to this very famous novel as it ...more
Wes Young
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
"If God Were Alive Today" was a very interesting story. It was a bit of a return to form for Vonnegut, whose last few novels were non-fictionalized fiction. However, there seemed to be a fair amount of vitriol in this final work. Vonnegut's daughter, in the introduction, gave us clues as to parallels in his life at the time that may have influenced this particular writing and it is a little shocking to read. The other tragedy, of course, is that this story was an unfinished chunk of a longer nov ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it
It's pretty cool that they put together a book of Vonnegut's very first and very last works. You get to see how his writing style has changed from start to finish. It is just a shame he wasn't able to finish the one piece. It probably would have been great. You get a good idea what it's about from these 6 chapters, but you'll want to know where he goes from there.
Louise Silk
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
I'm glad I got to read this first and last piece of Kurt Vonnegut's writing. It is an opportunity to see how he grew from the beginning to end of his prestigious writing career.

The first piece "Basic Training" was dull. The second novella "If God Was Alive Today" was a great very funny work in progress leaving me wishing Vonnegut were still alive to see it through to completion.
Andd Becker
Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Nanette Vonnegut's commentary is excellent. The concept of first and last works of Kurt Vonnegut sounds good, but it doesn't work out well. The first work is not high caliber. The last work is unfinished, alas.
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Vonnegut's story "Basic Training" showed the early strength of his unique voice, and his unfinished novel "If God Were Alive Today" and its main character Gil Berman present a final tribute to the author's satirical take on American life.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The first ever review of a KV book without a single reference to Slaughterhouse Five at
Jill Furedy
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Although I haven't read all his works, I am a Vonnegut fan. I went to the library for something else and ran across this so I had to pick it up. His daughter's introduction was brief but intriguing. She told some anecdotes about her dad, his effect on her, and some of the inspiration for the stories in this book. I thought the first story was fairly straightforward...a little 'of mice and men' for me somehow. They introduce this hiding spot in a pile of hay bales and you sort of know what's comi ...more
K.A. Ashcomb
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Usually, I find these kinds of collections waste of money and time, thinking the writer's offspring are trying to cash in. But with We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works I have to admit the errors of my way. This was an eye-opening book. Something every writer should read to understand how development happens. Basic Training and If God Were Alive Today, the two novellas, couldn't be further from each other. One is mild, pleasant, and conventional and the other is opinionated, cr ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
As someone who has read nearly every work by Kurt Vonnegut, I was a little disappointed by this volume. Of course, I understand that it is his first and last works, which are two very contrasting points in his career. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, this is a nice addition to my collection and important to see the evolution of Vonnegut's style and themes, and also the continuities that appear in both of these novellas and the other novels that were written in between.

The first novella was inter
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Worth it as a window into Vonnegut, not really as a work on its own. This book has three parts, all written by Vonneguts, only two of them written by Kurt. The forward, by his daughter Nanette Vonnegut, in addition to providing some charming anecdotes about her father, provided crucial context to appreciate the two “somewhat autobiographical” stories. The stories themselves are fine, both pretty funny explorations of quirky characters and their bizarre family relations. The first is much less st ...more
Shannon T.
The stark difference between these two stories is amazing, and really shows the journey and maturation Vonnegut underwent to change his style so dramatically.

I can't say I enjoyed "If God Were Alive Today", but I can still appreciate how much it shines next to "Basic Training" in terms of subversion and technical prowess. I didn't enjoy it simply because I found the subject matter boring, though it was funny and I appreciated the satire behind it. I found it tiresome because of its repetitive n
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction

I'm rating this book by "what it is," rather than "what it could be." It's not really supposed to be perfect. That's what makes this, in my opinion, not only raw/unrefined, but it also gives readers a "glimpse" of how this author creates/generates his work from the beginning.

Below, are some words that captured my attention:

My father did with words what Fred Astaire did with his body. Something out of this world that no one else could possibly pull off. Even as an old man my dad defied gravity an
Eric Stodolnik
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome as always.
Absolutely fascinating to read.
Whoever came up with the brilliant idea for this posthumous pairing of novellas, to include his first writing and his last writing is a genius.

The differences were stark. While the first novella, is still Vonnegut, he hasn't yet found his voice. Its a touching, charming piece of fiction that is fun to read. The second screams in Vonnegut's voice. It is beautifully cynical, and rife with potential Vonnegutisms like all of his great work. It almost
Laura Cushing
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bookends to a life of writing.

The first story Vonnegut wrote at 16, and you can see the promise of his future stories though he isn't quite there yet . His protagonist is a teen boy who is much less flawed and quirky than his later characters.

The other story is unfinished, the story he was working on when he died. It is interesting to see where he was going, and wonder how it would have changed in edits.

Also a great introduction by his daughter Nanette that gives us a look into her father's las
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Vonnegut's first and last works and unpublished until now, are not the caliber of writing that you know him for, hence their posthumous release. In Basic Training you can glimpse precursors of the greatness he would eventually produce, whereas If God Were Alive Today is him jumping the shark in a garbled novella that has obvious Vonnegut-isms, but leaves you unimpressed and unfeeling for the allegedly world-famous comic [tragic] hero, Gil Berman. Lamentably, Berman's stand-up material was cringe ...more
James Kirby
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
A very quick read that offers loads of insight into how Vonnegut's writing style evolved. The first story he wrote is straightforward and engaging, and I could totally see something like this being requisite reading for high school students. The final work is chock-full of his unique brand of sardonic and dark humor, which felt particularly relevant alongside relatively recent political and technological developments.
Janet Jacobs
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
"Basic Training" was interesting, fast reading, but different from what I'm used to for KVJr. "If God Were Alive Today" is so obviously unfinished. I confess I skimmed a lot on this one. And it confirmed to me my utmost respect for editing. The preface by Nanette Vonnegut was worth the price of the book to me. (And boy, is it ever painful for me to give only 3 stars to a KVJr. book!)
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My audio version had a lot of hard to understand parts on the CDs. These two short stories each had a different approach in story telling, and general focus. The first one, Basic Training, takes us through the development of a 16 year Haley, who lost his parents and comes to live with family on a farm. The second one, If God were alive today, as the title indicates, is much more philosophical.
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Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journali

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