Thursday, February 06, 2014

Welcome To The Monkey House

Having just finished this ancient book of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, I wonder why I waited half a century to ever read him! This book was awesome.
Welcome To The Monkey House was originally published in 1968, but the 25 stories within it take place well… all over the place, time-wise. Some take place in the far-distant future, like the year 2158, etc. And in these futuristic psuedo-sci-fi stories, Vonnegut is forever poking fun at what a botched up mess we make of technology. It's hilarious -- but also, thought-provoking.
Truthfully, I am not a big fan of short story collections. So, for me to say that I actually enjoyed each and every one of these is really something. 

Here is a little experiment I do when I finish a book of short stories. I look at the Table of Contents and review each title in my mind, recalling what each story was about. If most of them are a blur, or forgotten entirely, then I conclude the following: 
Either a) I am not a very attentive reader, or b) the stories were not very good.
With Welcome To The Monkey House I can look at all the titles and basically regurgitate a synopsis of each story in my mind. In other words, they were meaningful and memorable. And even fun.

The author once listed 8 points that he himself thought were important in the writing of short stories:
1) Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2) Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3) Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4) Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5) Start as close to the end as possible.
6) Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7) Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8) Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I think he succeeds in his stated goals with this book. Vonnegut was known to "rate" his own books -- and he was quite impartial -- some of them he awarded himself only a "D". 

He considered Welcome To The Monkey House a "B -".
I thought is was more like an "A".
At any rate, the experience made me want to read the only two he awarded an "A+" to: Slaughter-House 5, and Cat's Cradle.
How about you? What's your favourite Vonnegut book? Am I the last kid on the block to be reading this guy's work?



soph said...

Cat's Cradle.

Cipriano said...

Ahhh... so he was right about giving it an A+ then?

Stefanie said...

I've only read Slaughter-House 5 and it was awesome. It was a number of years ago I read it and there is a scene in it that still pops into my now and then. I really must read these short stories some time!

Cipriano said...

I think you'd really like them Stefanie.
I intend to read Slaughter-House 5 one day, for sure.