Dave Eggers reviews a posthumous collection of stories by Kurt Vonnegut, in the New York Times Book Review:
It’s been two years since Kurt Vonnegut departed this world, and it’s hard not to feel a bit rudderless without him. Late in his life, Vonnegut issued a series of wonderfully exasperated columns for the magazine In These Times. During the darkest years of the Bush administration, these essays, later collected in “A Man Without a Country,” were guide and serum to anyone with a feeling that pretty much everyone had lost their minds. In a 2003 interview, when asked the softball question “How are you?” he answered: “I’m mad about being old, and I’m mad about being American. Apart from that, O.K.”
Vonnegut left the planet just about the time we, as a nation, were crawling toward the light again, so it’s tempting to wonder what he would have made of where we are now. Would he have been pleased by the election of Barack Obama? Most likely he’d have been momentarily heartened, then exasperated once again witnessing the lunatic-strewn town halls, the Afghanistan quagmire, the triumph of volume over reason, of machinery over humanity.
For the last many decades of his life, Vonnegut was our sage and chain-smoking truth-teller, but before that, before his trademark black humor and the cosmic scope of “Cat’s Cradle” and “Slaughterhouse-Five,” he was a journeyman writer of tidy short fictions.