Kathleen Long, March 4, 2012 (view all comments by Kathleen Long)
I wish I had read reviews before I read Shields' biography of one of my favorite authors. I do, as the previous reviewer warned, like Vonnegut less after reading. Call me a romantic, but there is an undertow of negativity throughout the book--perhaps Shields is angry with Vonnegut for dying before he could really get to know the man personally. Or maybe he is jealous of Vonnegut's success as a writer. The tone Shields creates through decidedly extensive research, is one of a whining, lackluster talent who manuevers and manipulates his persona and his writing to fit the current market. I find the book harsh. It literally leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I have no problem with one of my literary heroes having a dark side--you cannot read Vonnegut without experiencing his depression--or having feet of clay, but there is an unsettling meanstreak throughout this biography. I suggest you skip it, if you are as fond of Vonnegut as I.
Burton, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Burton)
This is a book for Vonnegut fans. It details his life in terms of his psychological constructs, his proclivity toward slap stick humor, and, his angst in his need to be recognized and lack of accomplishments (until Slaughterhouse Five).
There were many revelations as to Vonnegut's failings. Much attention (neither salacious nor sanitized) is spent on his character flaws, of which there were many. He didn't love his children enough, he wasn't faithful to either of his wives or to the people who supported his literary career. Through it all, he chain-smokes Pall Malls for 60 years and, in the end, does not die of respiratory disease or cancer.
The book does a remarkable job given that the Shields was limited to the content of some 250 letters and interviews with Vonnegut's friends and acquaintances rather than one-on-one conversations with his subject, who died less than a month after the personal interviews began. The book's weakness is that there are so many details that one tends to get lost. It would be convenient if there were a time line that we could refer to, now and then, to help keep things in order.
One completes the biography, perhaps liking Vonnegut less, while understanding him a great deal more.
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From the author of Mockingbird—the first authoritative biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a writer who forever altered American literature
In 2006, Charles Shields reached out to Kurt Vonnegut in a letter asking for his endorsement for a planned biography. The first response was no ("A most respectful demurring by me for the excellent writer Charles J. Shields, who offered to be my biographer"). Unwilling to take no for an answer, propelled by a passion for his subject, and already deep into his research, Shields wrote again and this time, to his delight, the answer came back: "O.K." For the next year—a year that ended up being Vonnegut's last—Shields had unprecedented access to Vonnegut and his letters.
While millions know Vonnegut as a counterculture guru, antiwar activist, and satirist of American culture, few outside his closest friends and family knew the full arc of his extraordinary life. And So It Goes changes that, painting the portrait of a man who made friends easily but always felt lonely, sold millions of books but never felt appreciated, and described himself as a humanist but fought with humanity at large. As a former public relations man, Vonnegut crafted his image carefully—the avuncular, curly-haired humorist—though he admitted, "I myself am a work of fiction."
The extremely wide and overwhelmingly positive review coverage for And So It Goes has been nothing less than extraordinary and confirm it as the definitive biography of Kurt Vonnegut.
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