Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #30: While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut



My feelings may be summed up thusly: the foreword, written by Dave Eggers, was far and beyond the highlight of the book. It, and the chosen pieces of artwork from Vonnegut himself, represent all this book has on offer, besides a series of what Eggers refers to as “mousetrap stories,” which I feel is more apt a metaphor than even he would let on.

With each story, I went in with the expectation that I would be rewarded for my patience, that the “mousetrap” Eggers was referencing was of the variety seen in the board game, the mouse finding itself encaged yet alive, and that he would make of me his willing prisoner. In reality, my only hope was that Stockholm Syndrome would set in and cause a drastic change of opinion.

It, regretfully, did not and the trap revealed itself to be one altogether more ruthless. Vonnegut coerces you into the palm of his hand with the promise of cheese, only for it to be revealed as a mirage and for his hand to squeeze and wrench the life right out of you. He does this with each story, and I continued dumbly along, learning nothing, thinking he wouldn’t, couldn’t crush me with disappointment any more than he already had.

Vonnegut, a member of my so-called “holy trinity,” must have one amidst the bunch worthy of his name, I thought. I was lying to myself, knew it, and yet ignored it as a bunch of poppycock. By the end of the collection, however, I’d settled into the realization that Vonnegut wasn’t suited for the short story format.

He massaged a few worth reading out of that admirable cranium of his, such as “Harrison Bergeron,” but he also produced enough pedestrian efforts to fill more books than Douglas Adams, fellow member of my “holy trinity,” wrote in his lifetime. Publishers will likely continue to compile the remaining odds and ends he left unpublished and thrust them out into the world so his fans, still lamenting his death, can try feebly to resurrect him via the written word.

Moreover, I imagine I’ll continue to be one such fan, reading whatever work of his there is left to be read and damning myself for it as I do. Not every writer can excel in both formats, novel and short story, as Stephen King, the final member of my “holy trinity,” can. Why can’t I accept that and move on from Vonnegut’s short stories and back to his novels, revisit him operating within the format he was clearly most comfortable with?

Is it my completionist attitude? My undying devotion to the man and his writing? Do I take pleasure in the inevitable disappointment each of these collections brings? Or is there another potential factor that I’m overlooking? The answer, as well as what compelled someone to label these stories worth publishing, is a mystery, and one I imagine I’ll never stop pondering over.


Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

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