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This was my first foray into Kurt Vonnegut territory, and I expected to have stronger feelings one way or another about his work Instead, I was mildly pleased when the book was finished and I could move on to something else It is plain to see that there is a host of individuals out there who regard Vonnegut as an icon, and I will not presume to gainsay them He simply did not strike a chord with me.Perhaps if I had read a book or two of his in my younger days, or chosen a different title for my first Vonnegut reading Unknown, but having read this one, there was simply nothing that makes me want to try another And that is slightly disappointing. Happy Peaceful JailbirdsThis is a curious novel For the first 11 chapters 170 pages , it read like an autobiography of a former journalist and Harvard graduate become adviser on youth affairs in Richard Nixon s administration Only in the 13 chapters 136 pages that followed did it take on the familiar comic absurdist style of social commentary for which Vonnegut is better known.Love of LabourThe novel is a critique of private enterprise, capitalism and the labour relations that are imposed on workers by both small employers and large corporations such as RAMJAC Corporation, a highly acquisitive conglomerate that owns 19% of the American economy, the ownership of which is eventually gifted to the US government, on behalf of the American people, on the death of the sole remaining shareholder, Mrs Jack GrahamMost of the businesses of RAMJAC, rigged only to make profits, were as indifferent to the needs of the people as, say, thunderstormsSome joke on the people, to give them such a thing The business people in the novel are largely corrupt Republican politicians, lackeys, crooks, mobsters and criminals or is that a tautology The narrator, Walter F Starbuck, is now a 66 year old grandfatherwho, when all is said and done, was a clean and dapper and kindly old man , but was once a Communist until the non aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin While benign in nature, he ends up in prison twice during the novel the first time asthe oldest and least celebrated of the Watergate co conspirators , and the second time on a highly technical charge of unlawfully concealing the will of Mrs Jack Graham.The sympathetic and sentimental approach to the history of American labour relations e.g., the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti reminded me a lot of Thomas Pynchon sVinelandandBleeding Edge , though written before and set midway between the two novels.Kilgore Trout features as the pseudonym of one of Walter s fellow prisoners, who spends his time in jail writing science fiction stories and novels including a story set on the planet, Vicuna see the poem below.American DreamsThe tone of the novel gravitates towards a sentimental, dream like humanism, even when contrasted to the blind faith of the American people and their corrupt politicians in the miraculous potential of the invisible hand of capitalism.It forced me to contemplate whether and hope that the Trump administration would end up matching the record of the Nixon administration in filling American jails out of its own number.Ting a Ling Hello Goodbye Vicuna Song Dedicated to Kilgore TroutThis poem is constructed out of interstitial words and phrases used by Kurt Vonnegut throughout the novel Times change.Live and learn.Small world.Strong stuff.Too bad.Time passed.Nature sympathised.Life goes on.And on and on.That s life.So be it.Fair is fair.Peace.SOUNDTRACK view spoiler The Beatles Hello, Goodbye Zappa Occam s Razor an almost xenochronic extract from a live version of Inca Roads hide spoiler @Download Pdf õ Jailbird ⚟ Jailbird Takes Us Into A Fractured And Comic, Pure Vonnegut World Of High Crimes And Misdemeanors In Government And In The Heart This Wry Tale Follows Bumbling Bureaucrat Walter F Starbuck From Harvard To The Nixon White House To The Penitentiary As Watergate S Least Known Co Conspirator But The Humor Turns Dark When Vonnegut Shines His Spotlight On The Cold Hearts And Calculated Greed Of The Mighty, Giving A Razor Sharp Edge To An Unforgettable Portrait Of Power And Politics In Our Times The author does not want you to know this but Goodreads has just been purchased by the RAMJAC Corporation. One of the central conceits of Jailbird is that the RAMJAC corporation seems to own everything, and it is owned by Mrs Jack Graham, a reclusive woman whom few people have met in person and who gives orders by telephone, confirming them by mailing a letter to her subordinates signed by fingerprints from both hands That s weird, right Problem is, this is a Vonnegut novel, so it s not nearly weird enough.Walter F Starbuck is a Harvard man, a minor public servant who does time in a white collar prison for tangential involvement in Watergate The story begins with Walter s release most of his earlier life is told as a series of flashbacks, with Walter meditating upon and foreshadowing various formative events Having lived through much of the twentieth century, Walter is the world weary proxy for the author, able to use his decades of experience in the public service to demonstrate how, no matter what happens, this is life So it goes, eh As the story goes on, Vonnegut introduces any number of improbably named supporting cast members, dipping into their lives to various degrees, and connecting them in ways both unlikely and realistically serendipitous.In these respects, Jailbird is typical Vonnegut fare, and for the first half or so, I was quite enjoying it Despite the setbacks dealt to him, Walter was remarkably mellow He goes through his life almost as if he can t believe anyone is bothering to interact with him So many protagonists of stories are heroes they are often the most important or become one of the most important people in the story s setting Vonnegut seems to have set out to demonstrate that it s possible to tell a good story about someone who isn t a hero, isn t an antihero, isn t anything He s just some guy, you know He hasn t made much of a big difference doing anything in his life But he s OK with that.Somewhere towards the back half, though, I began to check out The novel starts to take weird twists and the plot begins to spiral outwards at an accelerated pace rather than in the tight, constant coils of the earlier part of the book I wasn t sure what was going on but in the head scratching, unable to enjoy myself kind of way, as opposed to the usual Escher like constructions Vonnegut springs upon the reader.Some of this is a personal issue I m just not that interested in Watergate or its fallout It s difficult for me, as a child of this era, to relate to that particular part of the twentieth century I feel strange saying that, because I have no problem enjoying the myriad stories set in World War II, which is surely a world much different from mine than America during Watergate But I studied World War II in school, and its presence in our culture far overshadows that of Watergate Moreover, in today s accelerated news cycle coupled with unprecedented access to information, it seems like a new scandal rears its head every second day Keeping up with the illegal activities President of the United States and his advisers was exciting in the 1970s Now it s just another exhausting facet of your unpaid Internet labour.Another disappointment peculiar to my tastes and preferences is the dearth of science fictional elements That s not an automatic failure Bluebeard similarly lacks science fiction, and I still loved it No, just my mood in general at the time was hoping for zany and unforgettable pulp sci fi on the order of The Sirens of Titan Oh well.I will say this I like the subtle way in which Vonnegut critiques both capitalism and communism here Whenever we discuss critiques of communism in fiction, Orwell always dominates Don t get me wrong, I love Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm as much as the next self respecting English student, and Orwell s corpus of anti authoritarianist literature is amazing Yet there is so much to be said and so many other people saying it.Latent in Jailbird seems to be the premise that World War II really fucked everything up in terms of capitalism versus communism in a way that few people anticipated Though its cost in terms of lives was staggering and atrocious, it did jumpstart the economies of Europe and America, even as it triggered the long slide of Russian communism towards its eventual collapse But the social changes that accompanied the absence of young men from the workforce and the general fatigue with fighting that followed the war really altered the way in which people thought about work and acquiring profit Oh, and having the ability to destroy all life on the planet with a few bombs also changed things Vonnegut is clever in the way he connects the Watergate era politics of Walter s career with Walter s earlier efforts in post war Germany He illustrates how the decisions made following the war have influenced the rise of various corporate interests, a process that has continued towards a concerning climax in my time The RAMJAC corporation lurks in the background of the first part of Jailbird it keeps coming up, but no one ever discusses what it is or why it seems to own everything And I like at the end how Vonnegut reveals that it doesn t actually own that much perception can be far powerful than fact That RAMJAC is of a trojan horse than anything is fun, though I wish Vonnegut had played with the idea instead of just stating it flat out towards the end.I m happy I read Jailbird, and I wouldn t rule out revisiting it at some point in the future I might like it better then That being said, there are plenty of other Vonnegut novels to read, or ones I d rather re read first, so that won t be a priority It just lacks the volume of satire and humour I want from my Vonnegut, preferring instead elements of pure farce, which don t satisfy me quite so much Though still eminently Vonnegut in voice and style, it is not the an exemplar of his work. Coming right at me was the husk of the man who had stolen Sarah Wyatt from me, the man I had ruined back in Nineteen hundred and Forty nine He had not seen me yet He was Leland Clewes He had lost all his hair, and his feet were capsizing in broken shoes, and the cuffs of his trousers were frayed, and his right arm appeared to have died Dangling at the end of it was a battered sample case Clewes had become an unsuccessful salesman, as I would find out later, of advertising matchbooks and calendars Fortune surely plays games with human beings and it played a wicked joke on the main hero of this novel it turned him into a Jailbird My official title in the Nixon White House, the job I was holding when I was arrested for embezzlement, perjury, and obstruction of justice, was this the President s special advisor on youth affairs I was paid thirty six thousand dollars a year I had an office, but no secretary, in the subbasement of the Executive Office Building, directly underneath, as it happened, the office where burglaries and other crimes on behalf of President Nixon were planned I could hear people walking overhead and raising their voices sometimes On my own level in the subbasement my only companions were heating and air conditioning equipment and a Coca Cola machine that only I knew about, I think I was the only person to patronize that machine.Yes, and I read college and high school newspapers and magazines, and Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, and anything else that claimed to speak for youth I catalogued political statements in the words of popular songs My chief qualification for the job, I thought, was that I myself had been a radical at Harvard, starting in my junior year Nor had I been a dabbler, a mere parlor pink I had been cochairman of the Harvard chapter of the Young Communist League I had been cochairman of a radical weekly paper, The Bay State Progressive I was in fact, openly and proudly, a card carrying communist until Hitler and Stalin signed a non aggression pact in Nineteen hundred and Thirty nine Hell and heaven, as I saw it, were making common cause against weakly defended peoples everywhere After that I became a cautious believer in capitalistic democracy again But political games are even dirtier than those the fortune is capable of playing. I began reading this book just after finishing Anna Karenina and I am glad I did It was essentially everything Anna Karenina was not in a good way.The prose was classic Vonnegut, light, fast paced and strangely hilarious I look at Vonnegut as many look upon their grandfathers There are the same corny jokes you ve come to expect and despite their corniness you can t help but laugh and be pleased with them.Jailbird was particularly interesting and at the same time confusing for me The tale gets wrapped up in just as many historical events as it does fictional and there is also the mention and inclusion of many notable figures from the past 100 or so years.In the end it doesn t matter where fact and fiction cross or where they diverge The book was fun and seemingly lighthearted and like Vonnegut always does he make some serious points.Here is a quote, that given our current economic crisis seems perfect The economy is a thoughtless weather system and nothing Some joke on the people, to give them such a thing I think we are slowly realizing that we are the butt of this joke It strikes me, not for the first time whilst reading Vonnegut that writers can be divided into two camps The ones who have to work to include that smart arse clever line sentence phrase they jotted down somewhere, sometime and really really need to get in Who was it who said that the you like something you ve written down, the likely it is that you should take it out And the ones who, even if what they say hits you with a jolt and Vonnegut s lines often do that they nonetheless fit in They aren t forced, they naturally belong just there where the reader sets upon them There is a hilarious Kilgore Trout story about Einstein trying to get into heaven in Jailbird He goes through an audit first and then Rest here I was making my mind as blank as possible, you see, since the past was so embarrassing and the future so terrifyingKurt Vonnegut, JailbirdSometimes, I m not sure if we are running recklessly toward a Philip K Dick future or a Kurt Vonnegut future Sometimes, it sure seems like a bit of both Both authors like to play with ideas of fascism I think part of the draw, for me, of these two authors right now is how they sensed Vonnegut especially in this book the absolute absurdity and reality of economic greed, political malfeasance, incompetence, power, and the inability of the huddled, socialist masses to make much of a damn bit of difference.Part of Vonnegut s appeal is his everyman s view of things He doesn t write his books from some ivory tower His perch seems to be closer to a cranky uncle on a beat up couch, with cigarette burns in his pants, gravy on his shirt, and a wink in his eye.This is the second book I ve read after challenging, bribing my 15 year old son to read some of my Vonnegut paperbacks I m now two books into my own Vonnegut revisit I just ordered LOA s The Complete Novels 4C BOX SET Peace. I could never choose a favorite Vonnegut book, but when he died recently it was Jailbird I picked up to reread and feel his humanism and his compassion for all of flawed mankind To me the underlying theme of Vonnegut s work is the importance of fundamental kindness Even when Vonnegut it as his most negative about a situation, his conviction that compassion and generosity would be enough to fix whatever problem he s dwelling on shines through His disappointment that this approach is all too seldom used is the root of his cynicism but it is never disheartening to read because of that glimpse of childlike hope that we really could learn to be kind to one another.