Before I discuss the book, let me take a moment to comment upon the cover. Specifically, whose idea was it? And how did that photoshoot transpire? Seeing the whole picture splayed out like that lessens the silliness some, but when I just saw the part of it on the front I couldn’t help but think of how it looked like Kurt Vonnegut’s failed attempt at modeling. Kurt, no one’s going to look sexy wearing that, least of all you, with that patently unsexy look you purposefully cultivated. That would be unappealing enough if it didn’t look like a black-and-white photograph that was allowed to soak up the nicotine from Vonnegut’s cigarettes for a couple decades. When Vonnegut graded his own work, onlyHappy Birthday, Wanda June received a lesser grade, so perhaps this was intentional on his part, a means of shooing away potential readers. I guess it makes some sense for it to be a snapshot of him, being the closest he ever came to writing an autobiography. Whatever the case may be, do you now understand why I put this one off until last? I kept seeing that tacky cover and I had no option but to judge it based solely upon that.
I’m glad for that, now that I’ve read it. Palm Sunday reads like Vonnegut gone (or going) senile, repeating himself over and over again, yet in enough control of his mind to remind you of better books and better days. Only the piece which recounts generation upon generation of his family history stands as worthless. The rest, though, minus being repetitive, is respectable to the point that I don’t rightly see the point in poking holes. In Palm Sunday, Vonnegut is having a conversation with his readers. It borders on the mundane at times, but that part feels honest. Like he says at one point, authors are best when they’re granted time to sit down and write. Ask them to come up with magic on the spot and you’ll only get cheap parlor tricks. Palm Sunday isundoubtedly the product of many hours worth of work, yet it never feels like it. This is Vonnegut on cruise control, using the opportunity to tell you the story of the sights and sounds you pass. And, truth be told, I’m okay with that. It seems like the perfect way to wrap up my reading of Vonnegut. It’s as if Vonnegut decided to play himself out, relying mostly upon familiar notes, but working in just enough new parts to make me miss him when he’s gone and wish for an encore that now will never come.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.
Correction: there are apparently a couple if miscellaneous works I missed. Fates Worse Than Death, a sort of sequel to this, and Sucker’s Portfolio, the latest collection of unpublished short stories.