‘Life is no way to treat an animal’

It sucks when your heroes begin to die. Recently, it was counter culture icon and political journalist Hunter S. Thompson, my namesake. That was hard. I almost cried. This time, I did cry.

Kurt Vonnegut is dead.

Vonnegut defined the American psyche for the latter half of the 20th century. His bleak, cynical, but still ultimately beautiful prose in such books as “Cats Cradle,” and “Player Piano” exposed the deep inner turmoil created in a post-industrial, post-modern, post-World War II, post-civil-rights, post-feminist age. His books asked the final question, are we post-human? Post-meaning?

His biting humor refused to answer this question in any easy manner. With a razor sharp wit, Vonnegut deconstructed everything from sexual politics to war atrocities committed by allied forces. His works have been fondly remembered and several of his 14 novels and 25 total published books are considered classics.

Many literary critics initially dismissed Vonnegut’s work as glib and shallow. But time has proven him right. More than any other contemporary writer, Vonnegut created meaningful, emotionally engrossing and rewarding literature that people actually wanted to read instead of just have on their shelves.

The darkness and cockeyed world view so omnipresent in Vonnegut’s work came from his experiences in World War II where he spent time as a prisoner of war in Dresden. As the war drew to a close, Vonnegut would experience one of the greatest of tragedies of the 20th century when he bore witness to the allied forces firebombing of Dresden, an attack on a mainly civilian populace that, according to some reports, killed more people than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined. Many people burned alive in their homes, others suffocated on their own blood.

This trauma led Vonnegut to write his masterpiece, the semi-autobiographical, science fiction satire, “Slaughterhouse Five.” “Slaughterhouse Five” told the story of man who became “unstuck in time” after being abducted by aliens and placed in a Martian zoo.

Once one became unstuck in time he or she could move forward of backward through his or her life. All events were always occurring, everything anyone has ever done, he or she is always doing, but the human mind lacks the ability to perceive this. In reality, one does not die, he or she simply becomes permanently unstuck in time, free to move back and forth through the moments that brought joy or pain and relive them forever.

This idea of becoming unstuck in time was typical of Vonnegut’s savvy for creating bizarre ideas and philosophical metaphors that somehow made complete and immediate sense.

Unfortunately, for all the order and reason he tried to create during his life, Vonnegut was unable to overcome the pitfalls of old age. On Wednesday April 11th Vonnegut died after sustaining brain injury in a fall at his Manhattan home several weeks prior. He was 84 years old and leaves behind a wife and seven children, four of whom he adopted. So it goes.