Paul Cockeram's Reviews > While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction

While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut
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Dave Eggars shares some rare insight in his introduction to these previously unpublished stories. He points out how these early works were written by a young Vonnegut with a new family and all the resulting worries about money, stability, and career. (One character even toils as an engineer for the phone company while writing on the side, like Vonnegut himself.) Most of the conflicts concern the value of money versus art, or passion, or love—the intangibles Vonnegut spent his life uplifting, in his perpetual effort to remind humanity of what really matters.

The wise, mature Vonnegut lurks everywhere in the background, popping up regularly between the lines, though none of these stories matches Welcome to the Monkey House, nor reaches the grace and wisdom of his novels. As Eggars points out, they're stories of their time—an early twentieth century when short fiction was like sitcoms, therefore formulaic and heavy on surprise twists. Vonnegut's sensibility and skill come through in the moral spin he works into these resolutions, which never feel quite forced even though the twists are easy to see coming.

Vonnegut once wrote that his stories have no minor characters, for he believed that every player is the main character of his or her own tale—we just happen to follow some characters around longer than others. This idea is evident in “Ruth,” where every character is given at least a little attention, and some surprising characters suddenly take center stage. But the story pulls everything together in a final twist of a line, true to its time, even though along the way it gives readers a glimpse of what would turn into Vonnegut's famously incisive observational wit (in a train station, for example, the voice announcing the trains' destinations “seemed intent on shattering any illusions passengers might have of their destinations' being better than what they were leaving. San Francisco was droned as cheerlessly as Troy”). Delights like these await fans of Vonnegut, for whom alone this book was always intended.
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March 24, 2016 – Shelved
March 24, 2016 – Finished Reading

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