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And So It Goes Kurt Vonnegut: A Life

Lazlo Of The Dead's picture Lazlo Of The Dead
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I just finished And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut a Life by Charles Shields. This could easily be one of the most jilted half-assed biographies I've ever read. Shields opens the book with his desperation to get Vonnegut to allow him to be his biographer and allow him to write his book. Kurt initially refuses the request and then eventually allows it. Shortly after, Kurt Vonnegut passed away.

The major problem in this book though is that Shields appears to hate Kurt Vonnegut. He seems like a man who had only read Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-5 in high school and then had to suffer through the rest of his work after getting the job.

Sourcing is a huge issue in this work. It seems like Shields' main source of quotes seem to come from his ex-wife or his daughter Nannette, who clearly had issues with her father. The effect it creates is Sheilds comes acrossed looking like a jilted lover himself.

A biography should have the fullest account possible of the subjects life, good and bad. This is what the reader expects from a biography: a full, true account. In the case with authors, a behind the scenes account of what was happening in the author's life also adds a new layer of perspective to an authors work.

Shields instead chose to focus on everything bad about the man. His drinking, rage, infidelities, etc. are all the focus here. The book itself assumes that these are the reasons a reader comes to it. Writing was just a by-product of what Vonnegut did in the few times he wasn't too busy being an egocentric prick to pass some time.

Shields even go so far as to make his own psychological evaluations of everything from KV's childhood to old age.

He did a cut and paste of a Salon.com article in which Peter Fonda claims that Kurt Vonnegut reached in his desk and pulled out a joint. This part of the book was troubling to me so I looked it up. The quote was there alright. Here's why this troubles me though... In "Cold Turkey" an essay that was published in 2004 he says he has only smoked marijuana once in his lifetime with the Grateful Dead. Why would Kurt lie? Especially once we consider that Peter Fonda's quote came from his book in 1969? Given the popularity of other "Leftist" authors of the time like Hunter Thompson and Jack Kerouac, who would care about his pot usage in 2004? Maybe "Cold Turkey" wasn't on Shields' reading list. Shields also then cuts out the salon.com article which ended with "What a wonderful family…" it's fairly obvious why that part was left out though... it goes against his making Vonnegut look like an asshole vibe which he continues the next paragraph.

The worst part of all this is now it'll be another few years before someone else tries to do a better job.