Book - 2011
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"[Kurt Vonnegut] has never been more satirically on-target. . . . Nothing is spared."-- People

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.

Praise for Jailbird

"[Vonnegut] is our strongest writer . . . the most stubbornly imaginative." --John Irving

"A gem . . . a mature, imaginative novel--possibly the best he has written . . . Jailbird is a guided tour de force of America. Take it!" -- Playboy

"A profoundly humane comedy . . . Jailbird definitely mounts up on angelic wings--in its speed, in its sparkle, and in its high-flying intent." -- Chicago Tribune Book World

"Joyously inventive . . . gleams with the loony magic Vonnegut alone can achieve." -- Cosmopolitan

"Vonnegut is our great apocalyptic writer, the closest thing we've had to a prophet since . . . Lenny Bruce." -- Chicago Sun-Times

"Vonnegut at his impressive best. . . . His imaginative leaps alone . . . are worth the price of admission. . . . His far-reaching metaphysical and cultural concerns . . . are ultimately serious and worth our contemplation." -- The Washington Post
Publisher: New York :, Dial Press Trade Paperbacks,, 2011
Edition: Dial Press Trade Paperback edition
ISBN: 9780385333900
Branch Call Number: Fiction
Characteristics: 310 pages ; 21 cm


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Sep 24, 2016

You have two stories going on here, Kurt.

In the first, Walter F. Starbuck narrated how he was pulled into the President Nixon scandal of the Watergate break-in (1972) and was sent to prison. On the whole, boring. The second story, with the Vonnegut flair, kicked in on page 171 (Chapter 12) after Starbuck was released from prison. Starbuck's outlook on his own life—"An air of defeat was always a companion of mine"—invaded both stories, but the second story escaped ruin by it.

One of Starbuck's other themes that ran through both stories—"I have loved only four women in my life"—didn't offer much, even though the fourth of his loves became his savior in a grotesque way.

Kurt, what's with the loose sci-fi account of a judge, traveling as a spirit from his planet Vicuna to Earth to inhabit Starbuck's body? You pulled off alien visitation in Slaughterhouse-Five and you should have stopped there. The retread here didn't last a mile.

I liked the quirky touch of the index that listed all the people mentioned in this fictional autobiography.

About that sinkhole on justice that appeared in chapters 18 and 19: I fell right out of the story reading this polemic, which had a voice of clarity and seriousness that did not belong to narrator Starbuck. You may be right that "[Nicola] Sacco and [Bartolomeo] Vanzetti never killed anybody," and thus they should not have been tried for murder and executed after appeals in 1927. But what does this have to do with our story of a Watergate jailbird? The polemic, though, has a few timeless insights. Here's one (p. 232) that is most current in the riotous summer of 2016: "Anarchists are persons who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people."

Kurt, perhaps the most scathing of your lifelong comments on war also appeared on page 232: "…the battlefields of World War One were simply additional places of hideously dangerous work, where a few men could supervise the wasting of millions of lives in the hopes of making money."


Then this delight at the end: "You know what is finally going to kill this planet?...A total lack of seriousness."


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