a cobbled together life


It’s dangerous to begin a biography with what amounts to an advertisement for oneself. “Someone else could cobble together a so-so version of your life just by mining what’s stored in library boxes and electronic files. And it will happen soon, I think,” Charles J. Shields writes in the introduction to “And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life,” quoting a note he sent his then-potential-subject in summer 2006. “But I’m the guy for the job — for doing it right, that is. … And I’m a damn good researcher and writer.” What we have here is the literary equivalent of a come-on, Shields buttering up Vonnegut, appealing to his vanity. But it also raises elusive questions, such as: What is the connection between biographer and biographee? And: Who is all this really about? To his credit, Shields removes himself from the book once he finishes the introduction, but an afterimage lingers, like residue. Vonnegut died at 84 in April 2007; Shields met with him on only two occasions, and then, in an irony worthy of the author’s fiction, was left to “cobble together” a version of the life.

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.