I still have some of the old paperbacks. The Sirens of Titan. Cat's Cradle. Slaughterhouse-Five. ...
Somewhere along the way I've lost my copies of Mother Night, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. But Sirens was my favorite, and that old Dell paperback -- 95 cents when I bought it in 1971 -- is well worn. For some reason, one line from it has stayed in my head: "Wanda June, if you don't start acting right, I'm never going to take you to a materialization again.''
I could claim some bond to Vonnegut, who died Wednesday, based on geography. After all, like him, I lived for a time in Schenectady, N.Y.; a friend of mine proudly possessed an old press release Vonnegut had written in his GE days. But the connection I felt with him had more to do with reading his books, long before I had gone to the Electric City.
What was it about Vonnegut? The humor, of course, although as it overwhelmed later books, I drifted away, undone by the cutesiness. The darkness within, too. That's what I loved about Mother Night (and what made Nick Nolte's performance in the movie adaptation so admirable).
But I think above all else it was the world-weariness of his tales, and the way that weariness became the basis not for despair but an amusement at the follies the world could do. Even Vonnegut's vision of time travel suggested that we were somewhere out there reliving our mistaken past moments again and again. (Another thing that has stuck with me: the chrono-synclastic infundibulum.) And still, for all that, somehow, randomly, paradise could be reached.
Of course, when I was in college, I loved Vonnegut. He had the jaded quality of adulthood and the smart-aleckiness and lack of direction of adolescence. He created worlds where madness was stronger than good sense ...
Aw, I'm just rambling. It's been a long time since I actually read Vonnegut. And I'm decades removed from college, so I'm far from in touch with whatever I was feeling when I first read Vonnegut. I've got Sirens out, though. I may give him another try. That's what sometimes happens when people die, after all. We don't just remember them. We revisit what they were, and what we were when we knew them well.