Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s final novel, Timequake, is a bit like negotiating a pleasant and enjoyable minefield. One page illuminates a love that transcend’s time and the next details a suicide.
The saying goes: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In Timequake, the human race is forced to do the same thing over for ten years after a temporal hiccup sends the universe ten years into the past, forcing everyone to repeat their lives (and deaths) exactly as they had originally occurred.
But the story is secondary to the telling. The book is as much autobiography as novel, and as much philosophy as fiction.
Why throw money at problems? That’s what money is for.
Should the nation’s wealth be redistributed? It has been and continues to be redistributed to a few people in a manner strikingly unhelpful.
Since I finished reading Moby Dick at the beginning of the pandemic I have been struggling to find something new to read, to take my mind off the mind-boggling events of our strange times. I started to read Love in the Time of Cholera then Our Mutual Friend but even though both of them had wonderful openings, they could not hold my attention. With a pandemic and racial and social justice movements sweeping across our country it is hard to concentrate on fiction, so I took a tip from my most trusted advisor and indulged in the literary equivalent of comfort food.
I still remember the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut, in high school, and the comforting feeling that someone else recognized the insanity at the core of human society. It is reassuring, in these long overdue days of reckoning, to read the insights of a man nearing the end of his life whose vision is still clear enough to temper despair with hope. Or is it the other way around?
The optimism that infused so much of our writing was based on the belief that after Magna Carta, and then the Declaration of Independence, and then the Bill of Rights, and then the Emancipation Proclamation, and then Article XIX of the Constitution, which in 1920 entitled women to vote, some scheme for economic justice could also be devised. That was the next logical step.
And even in 1996, I in speeches propose the following amendments to the Constitution:
Article XXVIII: Every newborn shall be sincerely welcomed and cared for until maturity.
Article XXVIX: Every adult who needs it shall be given meaningful work to do, at a living wage.
What we have created instead, as customers and employees and investors, is mountains of paper wealth so enormous that a handful of people in charge of them can take millions and billions for themselves without hurting anyone. Apparently.
Many members of my generation are disappointed.