Synopses & Reviews
In Unstuck in Time, Gregory Sumner guides us, with insight and passion, through a biography of fifteen of Kurt Vonneguts best known works, his fourteen novels starting with Player Piano (1952) all the way to an epilogue on his last book, A Man Without a Country (2005), to illustrate the quintessential American writers profound engagement with the "American Dream" in its various forms. Sumner gives us a poignant portrait of Vonnegut and his resistance to celebrating the traditional values associated with the American Dream: grandiose ambition, unbridled material success, rugged individualism, and "winners" over "losers." Instead of a celebration of these values, we read and share Vonneguts outrage, his brokenhearted empathy for those who struggle under the ethos of survival-of-the-fittest in the frontier mentality—something he once memorably described as "an impossibly tough-minded experiment in loneliness." Heroic and tragic, Vonneguts novels reflect the pain of his own lifes experiences, relieved by small acts of kindness, friendship, and love that exemplify another way of living, another sort of human utopia, an alternative American Dream, and the reason we always return to his books.
"Named for the mental dislocation experienced by Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Sumner's exploration of the iconic writer's life begins with a brief biography and an outline of the recurrent themes found throughout his 14 novels. The significant elements include Vonnegut's preoccupation with technology, which stems from his scientific studies at Cornell and later work at General Electric, and his penchant for stories reminiscent of his experience as a soldier and POW during WWII. Fourteen chapters follow, providing plot, background, and analysis for each of Vonnegut's books. Other notable tendencies discussed were the reuse of Midland City, Ohio, and the recycling of minor characters in major roles, such as the constant presence across novels of Kilgore Trout, the science fiction author who appears in all 14, who is finally given the leading role in the author's final novel, Timequake. Sumner does well to contextualize contemporary events both in the world and the writer's personal life during each novel's conception, ultimately connecting many dots in the Vonnegut oeuvre. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
GREGORY D. SUMNER, JD, PhD, is chair of history at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he has taught since 1993. He holds a doctorate in American history from Indiana University and is the author of Dwight Macdonald and the Politics Circle. Sumner has been awarded summer fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has twice been William J. Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the Université di Roma Tre.