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And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut - A Life    by Charles J. Shields order for
And So It Goes
by Charles J. Shields
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

In his eighties, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. passed away in 2007 after a fall walking his dog. One of the United States' most interesting and inventive authors was gone and little was really known about the man who had written Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions.

Although he didn't publish a lot, the combination of satire, sci-fi, and black humor that did flow from Vonnegut's pen was read and enjoyed by millions of people and helped change the course of American fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.

The first authoritative and authorized biography of Vonnegut, And So It Goes - Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, gives a fascinating look into this influential and controversial writer's life and career.

'Writing this book has been like conversing with an empty chair,' writes Shields, 'because Kurt Vonnegut, in the argot of slapstick, his favorite form of humor, took a powder and left me holding the bag. We were working together when he passed away. In fact, the last time I spoke to him was just hours before he suffered an accident that resulted in his death.'

Unfortunately, although the two men agreed to work together on the project, Vonnegut's accident occurred before they could really get started. Nevertheless, Shields decided to go forward.

Although he suggests in the book's introduction that some of Vonnegut's immediate family were not always terribly helpful, Shields did have access to a lot of information and many important individuals in the author's life. Thus, using this material and five years of research, he has tried to create a book that strips away the some of the myths that surround Vonnegut and exposes the real person.

After their first lunch together, Shields was impressed by his subject's openness but thought he was dealing with 'a lonely, disenchanted man'. Vonnegut blamed his parents and older brother, a famous scientist, for wounds inflicted on his heart when he was young.

Finding out why Vonnegut felt this way in later life and seeking to validate if this was an accurate first impression is part of what the the biography seeks to uncover.

A man who elevated science fiction and brought it more into the mainstream of American literature, Vonnegut sometimes felt he wasn't taken seriously enough. This very readable and entertaining book will go far towards dispelling the idea that Kurt Vonnegut wasn't one of America's definitive 20th century authors.

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