Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut

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Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A collection of short stories in which men stand alone to meet their fate. Slightly dated, but stands the test of time: an enjoyable read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099548850

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Kurt Vonnegut died a couple of years ago after a sci fi writing career spanning over fifty years; he was well-known for his humanist views. This collection of unpublished short stories shows Vonnegut at his dark best, his theme, individuals out for themselves in an uncaring society. A colleague at The Bookbag recently wrote that Kurt Vonnegut's early writing is his strongest. If that is so, then this collection, illustrated with cartoons by the author, will be good news for his many fans.

With no room for superfluous writing, the short story is apt to reveal the level of the writer's creativity when stripped down to bare bones. Although as a genre they struggle to survive in the paperback market, I really enjoy the ingenious plotlines and myriad larger than life characters to be found in most collections and it's in this spirit that I commend Look at the Birdie to you.

In the title story, a small-time crook bemoans his fate in descending from a successful but faked life as a psychiatrist to mere blackmailer. Vonnegut is the old-fashioned photographer who brings a black and white picture to life with his clear focus on personality. The characters pose with stylised unreality as if for an old photo.

To Vonnegut's credit, the stories read well as ironic fairy tales. Fubar, for instance, is a story of the power of positive thinking. The hero, Fuzz Littler, is permanently sidelined into an empty social club building because his department at work is already full. He regards himself as fouled up beyond all recognition, (hence the story's title) until the heroine arrives on the scene as a rescuing princess to point out all the advantages of his situation. Simplistic maybe, but the short story framework enhances the fairy tale.

Also in the fable style, Vonnegut deals his villains their just desserts. In Hall of Mirrors, the initiative passes between detectives and murderer as quickly as reflections glance from mirror to mirror. The truth is as fragile, the tension as brittle as glass. It's only in the last sentence that good ultimately triumphs over evil, with a surprising twist in the tale, very characteristic of Vonnegut.

I also enjoyed the slightly longer Ed Luby's Key Club. A couple out for an anniversary dinner are framed on a murder charge when they offend a local gangster. Events take a surprising turn when medics take the law into their own hands. As with the other stories, I admit this portrays a rather more simplistic view of humanity than we are used to reading today. But as with the other stories, my enjoyment of the novel plot made up for it.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

Further Reading: If you enjoyed this book, then Jay McInerney's more acid wit in The Last Bachelor is irrestistible.

Buy Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut at Amazon.com.

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