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These stories trace trivial human lives and mundane desires, which is precisely where Vonnegut’s inimitable perspective as a humanist shines, illuminating his alternating hopeful and dismal outlook, although undoubtedly focusing on the latter. Here as in his greatest novels, Vonnegut’s writing takes us to the darkest corners of the human soul and with wit and humor, manages to remind us of our potential to be something greater.
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By Dubi on 06-11-14
Hit or Miss, For Completists Only
We don't know why Kurt Vonnegut chose to leave these stories (and one essay) unpublished during his lifetime. The facile explanation is that he didn't think they were good enough to publish. Some reviewers have dismissed them based on that assumption.
But we also don't know when Vonnegut wrote them (the essay was written in 1992). We know he gave up on the short story as a literary form quite some time ago, so we can surmise that these are from the same era as those found in the two collections published while he was alive.
We also know that three of the stories in Bagombo Snuff Box were rewritten by Vonnegut for its 1999 publication because he was dissatisfied with them, even though they had already been published elsewhere. The stories in Sucker's Portfolio were never published. Maybe they were rejected, maybe Vonnegut didn't even submit them, maybe he was still working on them, even though all but one are complete as is.
But I can't dismiss them out of hand based solely on the fact that they were never published before. That's because there is some good stuff here -- there is only one story that I didn't like and didn't get at all. But the stories are uneven, some more so than others. They are also too O Henrian, clearly crafted to set up the ironic final reveal, which harks back to Vonnegut's explanation of why he gave up on the form, because it was "too cute".
The bottom line: if you haven't already read all of Vonnegut's novels -- especially his first seven novels -- and the Welcome to the Monkey House collection of stories, that's where you should be going right now. But if you're a completist like me who has already read everything else, there is definitely enough here to keep you interested.
Unfortunately, the narration doesn't enhance the experience. Especially the voices -- most especially the female voices, who all come off with the same mousy, scared tone that is borderline offensive.
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