Kurt Vonnegut: Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut: Timequake

Timequake is not the novel its author originally intended. That book, initially scheduled for publication several years ago, concerned a cosmic event that forced the entire world to relive, with no hope of altering its actions, an entire decade: The years between 1991 and 2001 would repeat themselves, and the reintroduction of free will would result in mass confusion. It's an interesting idea for a novel, if one that's not exactly brimming with new material. Vonnegut has already played with the themes of time, free will and the apocalypse several times over. Perhaps recognizing this, he scrapped the book, and assembled an often-rambling, generally entertaining collection of musings and reminiscences using the abandoned book's incidents and ideas as a framework. At its best, Timequake is vintage Vonnegut, tough and unsparing in its rough humor. At its worst, it seems curmudgeonly in the worst sense of the term: Chapters devoted to the evil of television arrive about 40 years too late to mean anything, and seem like reworkings of tracts protesting the impropriety of the aeroplane and the horseless carriage. Besides, what other medium could possibly be as informative in detailing the items on Vonnegut's Discover card statements? Still, though it occasionally reads like an extended version of one of Larry King's My Two Cents columns, it's still Vonnegut, and his darkly humane take on existence has worn well. This is, if the author's statement is to be believed, Vonnegut's last novel. Don't count on it. Kilgore Trout, his occasional alter ego, was killed off several books ago, only to play a prominent role in this one, and it's hard to imagine Vonnegut enjoying retirement quietly. Still, if this is his last word, it's a sloppy valediction that feels as heartfelt as anything he's ever done.

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