Vonnegut, Kurt: Slapstick: or, Lonesome No More!
(researched by Payton Sands)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
The First Edition was published by Delacorte, New York, 1976
Source: examination of first edition
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition was published in blue cloth.
Source: examination of first edition
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
Pp. 12 unnumbered +244 as follows, p. [1]; title page, pp. [2]-[3]; p. [4]; list of other titles by author, p. [5]; drawing by Al Hirschfeld, p. [6]; dedication, p. [7]; blank, p. [8]; epigraph, p. [9]; blank, p. [10]; fly title, p. [11]; blank, p. [12]; text, pp. 1-243; blank, p. [244].
Source: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
There is no introduction. There is no mention or indication of an editor
Source: examination of the first edition
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The Dedication illustration is the reproduction of a drawing by Al Hirschfeld. There are two additional illustrations. One is a drawing of a tombstone and the other, which appears with different insriptions, i
s a drawing of a campaign button. The dust jacket was designed by Paul Bacon.
Source: examination of first edition
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book appears in good condition. The pages are well laid out with much space between lines and with a large type. The combination makes the text easy to read. Diamond-shaped dots separate blocks of text th
roughout the book.
Source: examination of first edition
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is sturdy and moderately thick. The paper has held up will since 1976.
Source: examination of first edition
11 Description of binding(s)
Binding and description: 20.8 x 13.6 cms. Blue cloth over boards. Spine reads T-B as follows:
SLAPSTICK / Kurt / [parallel and below preceding line] Vonnegut / DELACORTE / . Title and publisher's name stamped in gold. Author's name in red. Red endpapers. Paul Bacon designed the dust jacket, which is white, black, red, blue, and purple. All edges trimmed. Top edge stained in blue.
Source: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
12 Transcription of title page
[Double-page spread] [p. 2] A / Novel / BY / Kurt / Vonnegut / [p. 3] SLAPSTICK / OR / LONESOME / NO / MORE! / DELACORTE PRESS [slash] S
EYMOUR LAWERENCE / [words on both pages set within rectangular frames whose sides consist of diamond-shaped dots].
Source: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Information Unavailable.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Delacorte issued review copies which include glossy of author by Jill Krementz and review slip, which lists publication date as October 1, 1976.
Delacorte also issued a Signed and Limited Edition, 1976
The Signed and Limited Edition was identical to that in first edition except as follows: An additional leaf has been added at the front with, recto, the limitation statement. It is printed in italics and reads: This edition / signed by the author / is
limited to / two hundred and fifty copies / of which / this is / copy number / [ruled line on which number is written]. Author's signature is below. Also, the all edges are gilt. It is enclosed in a blue paper-covered slipcase. Issued at $35.00
Source:"Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
Delacorte, as listed above, printed the First Edition, 1976 and the Delacorte Signed and Limited Edition, 1976.
There was also the Delta Reedition of First Edition, 1977, and the Dell Reedition of First Edition, 1978. Each of these editions had only one printing.
Source: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Delta Reedition of First Edition, 1977
Dell Reedition of First Edition, 1978
Cape Edition, 1976
Panther (Special Overseas) Edition, 1976
Panther Edition, 1976
Vintage, 1991
Dell (Current Publisher) 1982, 1989, 1992

[Also, See Translations]
Sources: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987 Dell Publishing website (http://www.bdd.com) VIRGO Database: WorldCat (VIRGO)
6 Last date in print?
The book is currently in print in paperback. Dell Publishing Company, Incorporated ISBN: 0-440-18009-0
Source: Books In Print Infotrac Search Bank (http://sbweb4.med.iacnet.com/infotrac/session/848/786/9638644/1!vdb_2)
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
N/A
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
N/A
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
New York Times Book Review / October 3, 1976:
[Large Bold Type] Kurt Vonnegut calls his new novel "the closest / I will ever come to writing an autobiography." / It's about a 7-foot-tall, 100-year-old man./ [In smaller Type] [plot summary] / 3/4 page picture of cover-art
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019980220150703.jpg
11 Other promotion
N
/A
Within the Vonnegut Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Literary Biography, there is no mention of any other promotions.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Film: "Slapstick (Of Another Kind)" 1984 Director: Steven Paul Jerry Lewis / Madeline Kahn / Orson Welles Other Production Information: N/A
Source: International Movie Database (www.us.imdb.com)
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Portuguese Translation: Artenova Edition, 1977: Pastel?o-Ou Solit?rio, Nunca Mais Translated by Ed Arten ISBN N/A
Norwegian Translation: Lanterne-bokene (Gyldendal) Edition, 1977: Slapstick Aldri mer alene! Translated by Peter Haars ISBN 82-05-10586-3
Dutch Translation: Meulenhoff Edition, 1977 Slapstick of Niet langer eenzaam! Translator N/A ISBN 90-290-0575
German Translation: R. Piper Edition, 1977 Slapstick oder Nie wieder einsam Translator N/A ISBN 3-492-02289-2
Spanish [Argentina] Translation: Pomaire Edition, 1977 Payasadas O: I Nunca M¿S Solo! Translator N/A ISBN N/A
Swedish Translation: Pan/Norstedts Edition, 1978 Slapstick eller Aldrig Mera Ensam Translator N/A ISBN 91-1-781021-3
Finnish Translation: Tammi Edition, 1978 Hui hai eli Jaahyvaiset yksinaisyy delle Suomentaut Translator N/A ISBN 951-30-4015-1
Bulgarian Edition: Front Edition, 1979 Fars ili nikoga veche samota Translated by Bozhidar Stoikov ISBN N/A
Japanese Translation: Hayakawa Shobo Edition, 1979 Slapstick-Mata wa, Mo Kodoku ja nai! Translated by Hiroshi Asakura ISBN N/A
German Translation: Rowohlt Edition, 1980 Slapstick oder Nie Wieder Einsam! Translated by Michael Schulte ISBN N/A
Mlada Fonta Edition, 1981 [Language N/A]: Groteska aneb Uz Nikdy Sami! Translated by Jaroslav Koran ISBN N/A
Budapest Translation: Euroa Konyvkiado Edition, 1981 Borleszk avagy nincs tobbe magany Translator N/A ISBN 963-07-2238-0
Source: "Kurt Vonnegut [italics] A Comprehensive Bibliography" by Pieratt, Huffman-klinkowitz, and Klinkowitz, 1987
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, The Whole Story: 3000 years of sequels and sequences, and The Vonngegut Encyclopedia there is
no mention of serialization.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Within the Dictionary of Literary Biography (v. 152, 1995) there is no mention of a sequel or prequel for Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! There is also no mention of a sequel or prequel in The Whole Story: 3000 years of sequels and sequences (compiled by John E. Simkin, 1996)
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Twentieth Century American writer, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., was born November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Vonnegut's parents, Kurt Vonnegut Sr., an architect, and Edith Lieber Vonnegut, a housewife, were of Germ
an descent. Kurt Vonnegut attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis and was a staff member on the Shortridge Daily Echo, the school's newspaper. After graduation, Vonnegut entered Cornell University to study chemistry. From 1940 to 1942 he attend
ed Cornell University where he was, "very close to being thrown out and would have been thrown out for academic reasons because [he] had no gift for science, really." (Vonnegut in an interview published in Paris Review, Spring 1979, Conversations with Kur
t Vonnegut, edited by William Rodney Allen) While at Cornell, Vonnegut was part of the school's newspaper, The Cornell Sun. Leaving his chemistry major at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the army. The army sent him to the Carnegie Institute of Technolog
y and the University of Tennessee to study engineering in 1943. In 1944 Vonnegut's mother committed suicide. December 22 of the same year, he was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge and interned as a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut
managed to survive the Allied firebombing of Dresden--February 13, 1945l, an event which appeared in his novel, Slaughterhouse Five (published 1969). After being liberated by the Soviets, Vonnegut returned to the United States and married Jane Marie Cox.
Together they had three children: Mark, Edith, and Nanette. Living in Chicago, Vonnegut worked as a reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau and studied anthropology at the University of Chicago. In 1947 he left the graduate anthropology program afte
r his thesis, Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales, was rejected unanimously by the anthropology department. Twenty years later (1971), Vonnegut received his Masters Degree from the University of Chicago for his novel Cat's Cradle, which ser
ved as a published work of high quality with sufficient anthropological content. Broke, Vonnegut moved to Schenectady, New York, where he worked in a public relations position for the General Electric Corporation. After publishing his first story, "Rep
ort on the Barnhouse Effect," in Colliers magazine in 1950, Vonnegut quit his job with General Electric to write full time and moved with his family to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he taught English at the Hopefield School for emotionally disturbed
children. He published his first novel, Player Piano, at the age of thirty. Within the next 10 years, Vonnegut's father, Alice, his sister,--who had always been the audience and inspiration for whom he wrote--and brother-in-law died, leading him to adopt his siste
r's three oldest children. After publishing The Sirens of Titan (1959), Canary in a Cat House (1961), Mother Night (1962), Cat's Cradle (1963), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), reviews of Vonnegut's first appeared. After a two-year residency at
the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, Vonnegut entered in a three-book contract with Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawerence in 1967 and received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which included a return trip to Dresden where he had the opportunity to research his
novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. After Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1969, Vonnegut went into a period of depression, feeling he had completed what he had intended to do. Despite this depression, he continued to write and work, teaching creative writi
ng at Harvard University and writing the play, Happy Birthday Wanda, in 1970. In 1979 Vonnegut divorced Jane Marie and married his longtime friend Jill Kremenz, with whom he adopted his daughter, Lili. He has continued to write novels following a failed
suicide attempt in 1984 for which he blames his mother's example, but cites his failure as his reason for continuing. The events of his life have heavily shaped his writing. His first novel, Player Piano, is set in Schenectady, New York, Cornell gradua
tes frequently appear in novels, Slaughter House five deals both with his experience in Germany and his awareness of his German ethnicity. Vonnegut currently resides in New York City, New York and can be reached through his attorney/agent: Donald C. Fa
rber of Farber & Rich, LLP, 1370 Avenue of the Americas, Suite #32, New York, NY 10019. Kurt Vonnegut is currently a memer of the Authors League of America, the National Institute of the Arts and Letters, Delta Upsilon, the Barnstable Yacht Club, and
the Barnstable Comedy Club.
Kurt Vonnegut's Works Include:
NOVELS: Player Piano,1952; The Sirens of Titan, 1959; Mother Night, 1961; Cat's Cradle. 1963, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls before Swine. 1965, Slaughterhouse Five, 1969; Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday, 1973; Slapstick; or, L
onesome No More, 1976; Jailbird, 1979; Deadeye Dick, 1982; Galápagos: A Novel,1985; Bluebeard, 1987; Hocus Pocus, 1990; Timequake, 1997,
SHORT FICTION: Canary in a Cathouse, 1961; Welcome to the Monkey House: A Collection of Short Works, 1968.
PLAYS: Penelope, 1960; Happy Birthday Wanda, 1970.
ESSAYS, ETC: Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: (Opinions), 1974; Sun, Moon, Star, 1980, With Ivan Chermayeff; Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, 1981; Bob and Ray: A Retrospective, 1982
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"Vonnegut's new book nevertheless returns to the greatest strength of this writer's art: the ability to project the big and little concerns of his own life into the field of imaginary action."--Jerome Klinkowitz,
New Republic, September 25 ?76
"Most of [the novel] is a sorry performance, full of the kind of bored doodling that made its predecessor, Breakfast of Champions, so annoying and self defeating a work."--Robert Towers, New York Review of Books, November 25 ?76
The above citations represent the severely polarized reactions to Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slapstick. Reviews which offer praise focus on Vonnegut's style of writing and the images with which he illustrates poignant issues in his life and in the world in 1
976. In contrast, those reviews which criticize Slapstick tend to view the novel as part of the many works of Vonnegut, contending, "Although everything is repeated in Vonnegut's novels, he sticks with nothing long enough to imagine it, give it breathing
space and air." (Roger Sale, The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976) In a poor metaphor, the New Yorker said of Slapstick, "This saucy spaghetti of ideas, strange to report, seems in the consumption as clear as consommé, and goes down like ice
cream." (John Updike, October 25 ?76) The ease with which Vonnegut introduces absurd scientific notions and the end of America and the world as we know it does not impress R.Z Sheppard who writes, "The novel, a linking of autobiography and fantasy, is an
aggressive retreat not only from the complications of society but also from the invention and charm of the author's early novels." (R.Z. Sheppard, Time, October 25 ?76) Many of Vonnegut's reviewers used Slapstick appears as a way to attack the author an
d his popularity. Even negative reviews, however, complemented Vonnegut's treatment of the childhood of Swain, the narrator of the story, and his dizygotic twin sister, one of the more fully explored issues in the novel. Many attempted to explain Vonne
guts popularity, which, "so far as I can see, is to the slightly laid back, rather dropped out, minimally intelligent." (Roger Sale) In previous works, Vonnegut frequently carries characters from novel to novel. Even though it more or less departs from
this tradtion, many reviewers criticized Slapstick as formulaic. However, the the criticism of repetition and "interchangeable parts" in Vonnegut works focuses on style and content: "Once Vonnegut finds what he takes to be a successful character, motif or phrase he can't bear to give it up, and so he carries it around from novel to novel." (Roger Sale) On the other end, Jerome Klinkowitz writes, "[Slapstick]'s readability should not distract one from the fact that Vonnegut has found a fictional situation which considers serious human problems." (Jerome Klinkowitz, The New Republic, September 25 ?76) Al
though most critics do not argue that Vonnegut raises significant issues of the human condition, they frequently dismiss his treatment of such issues as irresponsible and whimsical. For Roger Sale the phrase, "hi-ho," uttered frequently by Slapstick's na
rrator, Wilbur Swain, "is not just a bored grunt that disclaims all responsibility for having to look at something; it is a gesture of contempt for all writers who are willing to be responsible for their creations." (Roger Sale) As a whole, reviews tend to praise the work individually. Those reviews which criticize Slapstick, tend to cite stylistic or artistic arguments aimed at Vonnegut and all the works he has produced, considering Slapstick within the context of other Vonneg
ut works. It does seem to be the general opinion that while Slapstick may not be bad, it is not Vonnegut's best novel.
Books & Bookman--v22-D '76 Booklist--v73-D ?76 Bestsellers--v36-Ja ?77 Bookworld--Ag 29 ?76 & D 12 ?76 & S 18 ?77 & Choice--v13-N 76 Critique--v25-Winter '84 Encounter--v29-Mr '77 HR-v29-Winter '77 Kirkus Review--v44-Ag 17 '76 Library Journal--v101-O 1 '76 Listener-v96-N 18 '76 National Observer--v15-O 16 '76 New Statesman--v92-N 5 '76 Newsweek--v88-O 4 '76 New Yorker--v52-O 25 '76 N.Y Review of Books--v23-N 25 '76 N.Y Times (Daily)--v126-S 24'76 N.Y Times Book Review--O 3 '76 National Review--v28-N 26 '76 New Republic--v175-S 25 '76 Observer--N 7 '76 Publishers' Weekly--v210-Jl 26 '76 Publishers' Weekly--v212-Ag 1 '77 School Library Journal--v23-O '76 Saturday Review--v4-O 16 '76 Spectator--v237-N13 '76 Times Literary Supplement--N 5 '76 Thought-v55-D '80 Thought(1980)-v56-Mr '81 Time-v108-O 25 '76 Virginia Quarterly Review-53-Winter '77
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"Vonnegut's new book nevertheless returns to the greatest strength of this writer's art: the ability to project the big and little concerns of his own life into the field of imaginary action."--Jerome Klinkowitz,
New Republic, September 25 ?76
"Most of [the novel] is a sorry performance, full of the kind of bored doodling that made its predecessor, Breakfast of Champions, so annoying and self defeating a work."--Robert Towers, New York Review of Books, November 25 ?76
The above citations represent the severely polarized reactions to Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slapstick. Reviews which offer praise focus on Vonnegut's style of writing and the images with which he illustrates poignant issues in his life and in the world in 1
976. In contrast, those reviews which criticize Slapstick tend to view the novel as part of the many works of Vonnegut, contending, "Although everything is repeated in Vonnegut's novels, he sticks with nothing long enough to imagine it, give it breathing
space and air." (Roger Sale, The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976) In a poor metaphor, the New Yorker said of Slapstick, "This saucy spaghetti of ideas, strange to report, seems in the consumption as clear as consommé, and goes down like ice
cream." (John Updike, October 25 ?76) The ease with which Vonnegut introduces absurd scientific notions and the end of America and the world as we know it does not impress R.Z Sheppard who writes, "The novel, a linking of autobiography and fantasy, is an
aggressive retreat not only from the complications of society but also from the invention and charm of the author's early novels." (R.Z. Sheppard, Time, October 25 ?76) Many of Vonnegut's reviewers used Slapstick appears as a way to attack the author an
d his popularity. Even negative reviews, however, complemented Vonnegut's treatment of the childhood of Swain, the narrator of the story, and his dizygotic twin sister, one of the more fully explored issues in the novel. Many attempted to explain Vonne
guts popularity, which, "so far as I can see, is to the slightly laid back, rather dropped out, minimally intelligent." (Roger Sale) In previous works, Vonnegut frequently carries characters from novel to novel. Even though it more or less departs from
this tradtion, many reviewers criticized Slapstick as formulaic. However, the the criticism of repetition and "interchangeable parts" in Vonnegut works focuses on style and content: "Once Vonnegut finds what he takes to be a successful character, motif or phrase he can't bear to give it up, and so he carries it around from novel to novel." (Roger Sale) On the other end, Jerome Klinkowitz writes, "[Slapstick]'s readability should not distract one from the fact that Vonnegut has found a fictional situation which considers serious human problems." (Jerome Klinkowitz, The New Republic, September 25 ?76) Al
though most critics do not argue that Vonnegut raises significant issues of the human condition, they frequently dismiss his treatment of such issues as irresponsible and whimsical. For Roger Sale the phrase, "hi-ho," uttered frequently by Slapstick's na
rrator, Wilbur Swain, "is not just a bored grunt that disclaims all responsibility for having to look at something; it is a gesture of contempt for all writers who are willing to be responsible for their creations." (Roger Sale) As a whole, reviews tend to praise the work individually. Those reviews which criticize Slapstick, tend to cite stylistic or artistic arguments aimed at Vonnegut and all the works he has produced, considering Slapstick within the context of other Vonneg
ut works. It does seem to be the general opinion that while Slapstick may not be bad, it is not Vonnegut's best novel.
Books & Bookman--v22-D '76 Booklist--v73-D ?76 Bestsellers--v36-Ja ?77 Bookworld--Ag 29 ?76 & D 12 ?76 & S 18 ?77 & Choice--v13-N 76 Critique--v25-Winter '84 Encounter--v29-Mr '77 HR-v29-Winter '77 Kirkus Review--v44-Ag 17 '76 Library Journal--v101-O 1 '76 Listener-v96-N 18 '76 National Observer--v15-O 16 '76 New Statesman--v92-N 5 '76 Newsweek--v88-O 4 '76 New Yorker--v52-O 25 '76 N.Y Review of Books--v23-N 25 '76 N.Y Times (Daily)--v126-S 24'76 N.Y Times Book Review--O 3 '76 National Review--v28-N 26 '76 New Republic--v175-S 25 '76 Observer--N 7 '76 Publishers' Weekly--v210-Jl 26 '76 Publishers' Weekly--v212-Ag 1 '77 School Library Journal--v23-O '76 Saturday Review--v4-O 16 '76 Spectator--v237-N13 '76 Times Literary Supplement--N 5 '76 Thought-v55-D '80 Thought(1980)-v56-Mr '81 Time-v108-O 25 '76 Virginia Quarterly Review-53-Winter '77
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Around 1974, Vonnegut declared, "absolutely anything I write is going to sell extremely well. . .it's going to sell phenomenally." (Vonnegut, A Preface to his Novels, Giannone, p. 7)
Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slapstick, was a best-seller in 1976 because he wrote it. The reasons for Slapstick's popularity are closely tied with those of Vonnegut's success as a writer. As such, an investigation into one requires simultaneous ins
pection of the other. The author's works reflect the author's persona, both perceived and self-described. In the same way that Vonnegut, in part, is popular because of he is distinguishable from other authors, Slapstick was well received for its uniqu
eness, not only as a novel, but as a unique Vonnegut novel. In the first sentences of the prologue, Vonnegut declares of Slapstick, "This is the closest I will ever come to writing an autobiography. I have called it "Slapstick" because it is grotesque,
situational poetry--like the slapstick film comedies, especially those of Laurel and Hardy, of long ago. It is about what life feels like to me." (Slapstick or lonesome no more!, Kurt Vonnegut, 1976) The characters and conflicts of Slapstick, however,
transcend the limitations of an autobiographical novel, offering the social and human commentary which has characterized all of Vonnegut's works.
Vonnegut's popularity reached its climax between the late-sixties and mid-seventies, with bestsellers in 1973 (Breakfast of Champions), 1976 (Slapstick), 1979 (Jailbird). While the time period of Vonnegut's popularity is clear, the identity of
the people who made him so is not: "Unlike most extremely popular novelists, Vonnegut attracts a following that includes some serious people who take fiction seriously." (Roger Sale, The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976) Although Vonnegut d
id not target a specific audience, the themes about which he was writing grabbed the attention of a generation for whom pacifism and humanity were prominent issues: "The merging of [Vonnegut's] critical respect and popular acclaim reached a peak at the s
tart of the seventies after the publication and film adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five. The times were right, of course: that text's antiwar theme was in complete accord with the moods of youth and academe. Vonnegut became something of a cult figure, a
guru in the eyes of the young, as well a writer firmly established--at least among his contemporaries." (The Vonnegut Chronicles, edited by Reed/Leeds, p. 48)
In a way Vonnegut's style spoke directly to a generation more accustomed to television and science fiction than any before it. The style of Vonnegut's novels "resembles the television drama in its swift pace, its darting topicality, its frequen
t use of stock minor characters, its violence, and its use of montage effects." (Writers For the 70's, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Reed, 1972, p. 215) Vonnegut considers his work to be an experiment. The same qualities which endear him to his readers, repel cer
tain critics: "If there's some experiment that's going on, or if they see a radical way to do things, they act as though I have made some boneheaded mistake. What really does it for them is that my books don't look a hell of a lot like other people's bo
oks." (Reed/Leeds, p. 6) Aside from uniqueness, a large part of Slapstick's appeal seems to be its readability. When asked why his books are so highly respected by young people, Vonnegut responded by saying, "Well, I'm screamingly funny, you know. . . A
nd that helps because I'm funnier than a lot of people, I think, and that's appreciated by young people. And I talk about stuff Billy Graham won't talk about for instance, you know, is it wrong to kill? And what's God like? And they like to hear talk l
ike that because they can't get it from the minister. They want to know what happens after you die. And I talk about it. That's a very popular subject." (60 minutes interview of Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Reasoner, appeared in Conversations With Kurt Vonnegu
t, edited by William Allen, p. 16)
Slapstick was popular because Vonnegut wrote it. It carries the same poignancy and style as his other works; his name does not carry the work. First released in September, 1976, Slapstick entered onto the Publisher's Weekly Best-seller list as
a "Fiction Candidate" in the September 27th issue of 1976. The following week, Slapstick appeared where it remained as a best-seller until February 21, 1977, the last issue in which it appeared on the list. Remaining on the best-seller list for nearly
five months displays how--as other Vonnegut novels--Slapstick speaks to the contemporary American society. Steven Paul's 1984 version, "Slapstick (Of Another Kind)," did not fare quite as well. With a gap of eight years between the initial publication o
f the effect of the little-noticed production on the popularity of the book is most likely minimal. This is most likely the fault of a poor production which earned Jerry Lewis a "Razzie Award" for worst actor in 1984.
Vonnegut's approach differs from that of earlier novels: "In Slapstick, Vonnegut strips away his masks to discuss his feelings about his family, especially his sister Alice and his concern for America's lonely ones; but this fictional autobiogr
aphy also functions as a coda of all his previous fiction and may mark a turning point in his career." (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Stanley Schatt, 1976, preface) Despite its deep personal relevance for Vonnegut, themes related to national issues appear in Slap
stick: "The more frequent public commentary on the decline of the family (as earlier in the Moynihan Report), the division of the nation during the Vietnam War, and the effects of the McGovern-Shriver campaign and the Nixon impeachment might all be seen
as contributing. Certainly one senses a coalescing of the public and the private in Vonnegut's rendition of theme in Slapstick. (Reed/Leeds, p. 114)
As the story of an apocalyptic end to America and ultimately the world, told by a seven-foot tall centurion, Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain--the last President of the United Stated--Slapstick, displays the way in which Vonnegut creates a fantasy w
orld from which the reader may view society as an outsider so that he may comment on the real world. The middle name "Daffodil" is part of Swain's campaign "Lonesome No More!" in which the government randomly assigned new middle names, creating pseudo-fa
milies. The creation of families works as a solution to the loneliness of America until most of the population dies of either the Albanian flu (caused by Martians) or the Green Death (caused by the ingestion or inhalation of the miniaturized Chinese). "
To Vonnegut, the underlying cause of loneliness is the American melting pot that destroys cultural and regional differences and that creates homogenized Americans that look alike, dress alike, and even think alike." (Schatt, p. 113) By losing our cultur
al heritage, Vonnegut points out, we have lost ourselves. Issues of implications of the demise of the "nuclear unit," the separation of the generations, the severance Vonnegut feels from his German roots he lost because of the anti-German sentiment surro
unding World War I, and the added burdens imposed on the conjugal relationship, all work their way into the sense of loneliness and society in Slapstick. (Reed/Leeds, p. 114)
Vonnegut's contemporary critics agreed Slapstick was a departure from his previous works: "The thrust of Vonnegut's fiction has moved from detached, ironic observation to impassioned participation. His early works, Player Piano and The Sirens
of Titan, were concerned with the external environment--the dangers of technology and the glorification of the machine." (Schatt, p. 115) Slapstick is the first of Vonnegut's works to leave off the suffix "Jr." in the author's name. Dropping the suffix
"Jr." his name, Vonnegut may have intended to indicate a distinction between the writer of Slapstick and the "Jr." that wrote the previous novels. Those who praise Vonnegut herald his "sharply honed prose style and his grim, staccato jokes, his innovati
ve uses of narrative masks and various cinematic techniques." (Schatt, preface) Those who criticize him argue that "everything is repeated in Vonnegut's novels," and that "he sticks with nothing long enough to imagine it, give it breathing space and air
." (Roger Sale, The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976)
Vonnegut believes his popularity as a writer caused some of the sharp criticism he has received for his works from Slapstick forward: "They get so goddamn mad, and the only reason they get so goddamn mad, I think is the amounts of money that co
me my way. I think it seems to them an unjust society that someone who does what I do could get rewarded." (Reed/Leeds, p. 7) Criticism of Vonnegut and, in particular Slapstick as a representative of Vonnegut, as discussed in the section on contemporary
critical reviews, seems directed at Vonnegut's assumed audience.
The public perception of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is similar to the reception of his works. Vonnegut, as a person, takes different shapes depending on the perspective. An approving literary critic writes, "For all the tough-minded skepticism, satiric
anger, and deep pessimism in his novels, we feel in reading Vonnegut that behind the books stands a truly compassionate and gentle man, a very human person as well as a very humane one." (Reed, 1972, p. 15) Of himself, Vonnegut said, "I really don't kno
w what I'm going to become from now on. I'm simply along for the ride to see what happens to this body and this brain of mine." (Interview with Vonnegut, Cargas, Christian Century, Nov. 24, 1976, p. 1049) A less appreciative Robert Towers writes, "Vonn
egut's admirers find him funny, sad, and ironic. I suspect that most of the unconverted find him prankish, often silly, sentimental, and more than a little cruel." (Robert Towers, New York Review of Books, November 25 1976) In interviews he comes acros
s as pensive, humble, and very real. Of his reality as a person he wrote a letter to Drake School Board to protest the burning of his books in a campaign against pornography: "The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to
you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am. . . I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War Two, and hold a
Purple heart." (Kurt Vonnegut on Censorship And Moral Values, Richard Siegfeld, Modern-Fiction-Studies, 1980-81, v. 26, 631-35) According to an Harry Reasoner in interview in 1970 for Sixty Minutes, "[a]s America begins, somewhat nervously, a new school
year, we have an improbability [t]he current idol of the country's sensitive and intelligent young people is 47 years old." (Allen, p. 15) Another interviewer writes, "He is the impatient humanitarian, the disappointed-but-constant optimist." (Kurt Von
negut, Allen, p. 3)
Vonnegut has been popular because he offers thoughtful social criticism in an entertaining way. While in a unique form, Slapstick, also offers the same insightful exaggeration and magnification of problems which existed in Vonnegut's contemporar
y society, but which continue to be problems for humanity. The sense of community adopted by the citizens in Slapstick because of their middle names reflects a sense of belonging which many Americans may look for outside of their immediate families. The
lack of a strong family structure continues to be a problem we must overcome. While Vonnegut's popularity remains, for the most part, at the margins, the social commentary he offered is continues to be relevant. Slapstick, like so many other works of V
onnegut, is a "moral fable," (Reed, 1972, p. 211). They are magical and fantastic in their settings and characters, but very real in the subjects they treat. The question, however, must emerge whether the morality and social criticisms raised in Slapsti
ck and other Vonnegut novels was specific to the time in which they were written. While themes like the dangers of technology, pacifism, humanity, and loneliness are not mere trends, it is possible that the way in which people choose to examine such them
es changes: "Although the wide readership Vonnegut has enjoyed in recent years demonstrates the appeal of his technique to contemporary audiences, obviously that contemporaneity could prove a limitation in the long run. Vonnegut's fiction could become s
omething of a period piece. As such it may emerge as one of lasting interest as a portrayal of the society and the art forms of our times, of the moods and concerns of a decade, and of how this period thought about itself and saw its future." (Reed, 1972
, p. 217)
Sources:
Books-
Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, Kurt Vonnegut, 1976 Writers for the 70's: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Peter J. Reed, 1972 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Stanley Schatt, 1976 Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, edited by WIlliam Rodney Allen, 1988 Vonnegut, A Preface To His Novels, Richard Giannone, 1977 The Vonnegut Chronicles, ed. Peter J. Reed and Marc Leeds, 1996 Kurt Vonnegut, James Lundquist, 1977 The Critical Response To Kurt Vonnegut, edited by Leonard Mustazza, 1994
Articles-
"Kurt Vonnegut on Censorship And Moral Values," Richard Siegfeld, Modern-Fiction-Studies, 1980-81, v. 26, 631-35 "Are There Things a Novelist Shouldn't Joke About?" James Cargas, The Christian Century, November 24, 1976 "So It Went" Robert Towers, New York Review of Books, November 25, 76 "Kurt Vonnegut: writing with interchangeable parts," Roger Sale, The New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1976 "Slapstick: from Laurel & Hardy to Vonnegu," Prodeedings of the Purdue University Fifth Annual Conference on Film, 1980 Hardcover Ficition Bestsellers's List, Publisher's Weekly, September 27, 1976-Feb 28. 1977 Databases-
Contemporary Authors Database International Movie Database Virgo MLA Database
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