Look At The Birdie
His second posthumous collection of prehumous stories, Look At The Birdie focuses on the unpublished early work of Vonnegut's formative years. Phantonymns aside, the stories that make up Birdie share a specific point in time. Whereas the stories in his previous collection, Armageddon in Retrospect, shared the themes of war and peace, the stories that make up Birdie paint a broad picture of post World War II America by nature of when they were written.
Author Sidney Offit brings up a good point in his affectionate foreword. Why have these stories never been published before? He speculates that as a master craftsman, these stories in some way didn't meet Vonnegut's exacting standards. If that's the case, has his family pulled a Dmitri Nabakov and selfishly published work the author would have rathered gone unread? To my knowledge, Vonnegut made no such request, so they are in the clear and we as readers get to capitalize. Whereas Nabakov's forthcoming The Original of Laura is an unfinished work in progress, the stories in Look At the Birdie are polished little gems, formed beneath the mantle of Vonnegut's skull in the high pressure conditions of his brain. You would need a jeweler's loupe to find any flaws.
And what do we find when we pull back flesh from bone and attempt to peer into his mind via literary trepanation? Vonnegut's takes on psychiatry (Confido), celebrity (Shout About It From The Housetops), the burden of genius (A Song For Selma), murderous intentions (The Nice Little People),and economic hardship (The King and Queen of the Universe), all of which are still very relevant today. In addition, these stories are once again accompanied by an assortment of the man's distinctive line drawings.
What more can I say about Vonnegut that hasn't already been said? I'm certainly not an expert, having only read the greatest hits and none of the deep cuts, so I can't compare these shorts to his career as a whole. What I will say is that if these are the efforts of a writer in his infancy, then Vonnegut came dancing out of the womb with a hat and cane like Fred Astaire. Each of these stories is carefully constructed with deceptive simplicity. Vonnegut's use of descriptive language alone speaks volumes to his mastery. Take, for example, the opening sentence of the first story, Confido-
The Summer had died peacefully in its sleep, and Autumn, as soft-spoken executrix, was locking life up safely until Spring came to claim it.
That beautiful piece of verbiage sets the standard for fourteen shots of pure reading enjoyment, all of which contain large helpings of Vonnegut's trademark black wit. We are treated to a glimpse of the Vonnegut of the future with early forays into genre, absurdist allegories, and Twilight Zone endings. His insight is razor sharp, almost to the point of being on the nose, which is my one passing complaint. But that is quickly forgotten as you are swept away in a torrent of virtuosic storytelling.
I know what you are going to say. You probably already knew all of this, right? Well then do us both a favor, refresh your memory. Smile and Look At The Birdie.