From the NY Times:
Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat’s Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in New York. He was 84 and had homes in New York and in Sagaponack on Long Island.
His death was reported by Morgan Entrekin, a longtime family friend, who said Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.
Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.
Like Mark Twain, Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?
He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism. "Mark Twain," Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, "Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage," "finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died."
The conclusions you shared in A Man Without a Country scared the hell out of me.
I had taken a break from you after spending a good two decades-plus immersed in your words and, in blazing my own literary and activist trail, surveying, researching, exposing and trying to repair a broken world. Needed to expand my worldview and dive into new pools and explore other vistas. Just two months ago, I saw the book in a cafe/bookstore — ironically your last book, it turned out, heh — and was compelled to purchase it. Immediately read it cover to cover. And it terrified me.
Listen: At 82, the age you were during the writing, you concluded that we are beyond hope. We humans, consumed with greed and selfishness and a reckless disregard for other humans, have scarred the planet and the communal soul. The damage appears, no, is irrevocable, you wrote. So it goes.
Having those sentiments come from you, a scribe I have long revered and one in some sense I know intimately, did not surprise. What was stunning was that these conclusions are the very ones that have kept this progressive scribe mired in deep depression for nearly four years (and probably longer). I now am a relatively young, but regretfully old, 45. Imagine that.
So it goes.
Keeping on with writing and do-gooding and disseminating ideas, however hopeless the endeavor. Beats joining the Church of the Utterly Indifferent. Will try harder to savor the nice moments along the way; I’m toasting you right now with ice-cold southern sweet tea, and it is really nice. Another blessing: The libation serves as a bracing distraction from the searing pain of immeasurable loss. Call it liquid oxycontin. Yeah, sipping this tea is awfully nice.
And perhaps all hope is not lost. After all, something led me to pick up A Man Without a Country; the book’s advice for coping with life in the midst of the world’s insanity — and perhaps the lesser craziness that is my own — will be invaluable if I must endure another four decades.
Thanks for the long-ago slap in the face, that whap! of cold, hard truth. For the laughs. For Kilgore Trout. For catching Al Stewart’s eye and making me take Twain more seriously.
Color me devastated and numb, but grateful and glad you are free of this hellhole.
And forgive me if, just for today, I ditch one piece of the wisdom you shared with a disillusioned and lonely girl via handwritten letter 35 years ago. OK, two: I used a semicolon. I have my reasons.
An 84-year-old man in the
body of a middle-aged woman
P.S. Damn you, you’ve left me with a question and now you must know the answer: Is death really the logical solution to any problem? Since neither you nor the late Samuel Clemons are here, I’ll have to tackle that on my own. To wit: Some deaths — for example, those of a baby, a newlywed, a just-certified doctor or Dana Reeve — defy logic. Logical and inevitable are not synonyms. Sometimes, however, the two intersect. Goodbye, Blue Monday!
The following poem appears at the end of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s final book:
When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.