Thursday, July 23, 2009


*With our head Genoshan off wandering the streets of San Diego (probably dressed like Rocket Raccoon), he's handed the reins of the kingdom over to me for the week, so here goes...something, anyway.

You're sick, now you're better, there's work to be done — Kilgore Trout

The final novel published by acclaimed Absurdist/Sci-Fi author Kurt Vonnegut (followed only by a collection of essays and short stories), Timequake is inherently a failure. Don't get the wrong idea here; Timequake was actually the first Vonnegut I ever read (when I was about 12 — boy, did that go over my head! Why did you buy this for me as an Easter present, Dad?), and I enjoyed it even more the second time around (when I could actually comprehend and appreciate it), but the book Timequake is constructed entirely around Vonnegut's inability to complete the novel Timequake to a satisfactory degree.

Confused? Don't worry about it. Vonnegut's metafictional conceits have metafictional conceits, which in turn have more metafictional conceits, but not in that hurts-your-head kind of way; no, Vonnegut is clearly having fun with this, in that quirky, self-conscious way he does so well. And fortunately, he lays it all out on the line for the reader right up front, to avoid any unnecessary confusion: Timequake was (originally) a novel in which the universe suffers from a crisis in self-confidence—should it go on expanding? What's the point?—and forces everyone within it to re-live the last 10 years of their lives. Everyone would retain their memories of the first 10 year go-round, but would still be forced to go through them again on autopilot, reliving every moment precisely as it happened the first time, unable to change a thing.

Eventually, Vonnegut mostly gave up on this idea, and the Timequake that was ultimately published transformed into a different creature. The book consists of part salvaged sections from the original novel—presented as such, and usually concerning Vonnegut's fictional literary alter ego, Kilgore Trout—and part personal memoir. Taking the notion of a Timequake and applying it to his own personal experiences, as well as to the personal experiences of those close to him, Vonnegut explores ideas of fatalism, determinism, and human nature in the modern world through this fascinating (and often quite comic) lens. These anecdotes range from tragic (a woman who accidentally paralyzes her husband, and must relive it through the quake) to triumphant (a man wrongly imprisoned but eventually released and exonerated who must relive his entire redemption arc to become a hero again) and everything in between, narrated with that delightfully sardonic wit for which Vonnegut has become so renowned.

That being said, Timequake tends to eschew most of the traditional conventions regarding plot and linear cohesion, and this might turn some people off from it. Vonnegut does eventually return to many of his (and Trout's) briefly touched upon anecdotes and stories, often giving us small, almost stream-of-consciousness bursts of information before moving on to something only tangentially related and eventually working his way back several chapters later, but one gets the feeling that it never really goes anywhere. Each anecdote or story has a beginning, middle, and end, and the thematic connections are typically clear, but the story as a whole lacks an arc. As a reader, you are drawn in not by the ongoing meta-adventures of Kilgore Trout, but by the sheer enjoyment of each story as conveyed by Vonnegut (or Trout); there is very little beyond that, however, to compel you to turn the page and continue.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The end of the novel is surprisingly uplifting, and Vonnegut does flirt a bit with the massive destructive forces of Ennui and Apathy (the true antagonists of the story) that overcome the human race once they are free from the grasps of the Timequake (this would have been the action-packed, heroic climax of the original Timequake, in which Kilgore Trout must wake the people up and urge them to continue living, etc., etc.), which all kind of resembles a plot. Surprisingly enough, the apparent lack of cohesion almost makes it easier to read, as most of the anecdotes are both brief and enjoyable. As a reader, you never quite know where it's going to take you next, and a large part of the enjoyment is seeing where all of these seemingly non-sequitur characters and concepts lead and intersect. For those of you entirely unfamiliar with the works of Kurt Vonnegut, a large part of his appeal lies in his ability to speak simply about the most profound things, and this book is certainly no exception. There are times when his language and sentence structure feel almost childlike, but the concepts and ideas contained within are enough to blow your mind all the way to Tralfamadore, to Dresden, or to somewhere else entirely.

I give Timequake 3 and a half out of 5 Vonnegut self portraits:

So it goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Information and FTC Disclaimer

FTC Rules: While I do not make any money from authors, publishers, or anyone else related to these books in exchange for these reviews, there have been times where I've received free copies of a book to be reviewed, and may receive more in the future. Due to FTC compliance rules, however, you should always assume that I have an ulterior motive, and thank them for their unceasing vigilance in the face of this ever-increasing threat of blog advertising.

If you would like to contact me regarding a book you would like reviewed, or for writing matters in general, feel free to email me at