Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jailbird, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Title: Jailbird
Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Rating: Good

Vonnegut's books are hit or miss for me. I know some people love every word he writes while others can't stand him, but I seem to waffle about, each book I've read being different in significant ways from the others. Prior to Jailbird I've read the following by "Uncle Kurt", and I rate them as listed:
  • Cat's Cradle, Great
  • Timequake, Good
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, OK
  • Breakfast of Champions, Poor
With that as background, you can see that I'm never quite sure what I am going to wander into when I start another if his offerings. As a result, I can say that Jailbird was a mildly pleasant surprise.

There is some plot to Jailbird, though not much, really, and we learn about it in strange ways - flashbacks, references to future events, and other oddities. We're following, in a very roundabout fashion, the life of Walter F. Starbuck. He's a very, very minor figure from the Watergate mess, and he's just getting out of jail when we meet him.

For my taste, there are a few too many coincidences in Walter's life, particularly right as he gets out of prison, but that's a minor quibble here. The characters are interesting, and there is at least something of a story to follow.

The best part of the book, though, has to be the introduction. Vonnegut spent 40 pages writing introductory remarks about things, mostly related to the contents of the novel in some way. Those pages were interesting reading for me, and may help explain why I found the rest of the novel better than something like Breakfast of Champions.

If you're a hard-core Vonnegut fan, you'll already have read this one. If you're a hard-core wanna-be, you'll need to read it, and you should. For the rest of us, it's reasonable, but Cat's Cradle is a much better story by the same author. I'd put it above Jailbird by a fairly wide margin.

Oh, by the way, Kilgore Trout's name makes an appearance in here, for those tracking him. Oddly, I cannot reconcile it with other KT appearances that I've read. I guess it isn't necessary that Vonnegut be consistent in how he treats those characters that cross novels, but it was a bit distracting to me.