JailbirdIn case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd.  How big a nerd? Well, remember those summer reading lists from when you were a kid? I’ve assigned myself one and it’s a doozy.  I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  I subtracted the few that I’d read before and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

After finishing up Breakfast of Champions, I decided to try a different course in how I selected which Vonnegut novel to read next.  Previously, I’d just gone down the chronological list,  so  I wanted to “hop around” in sequence of titles.  I went on Amazon and ordered a bunch of used copies for the titles I’ve got left to go and are now reading them at random.  The first to be arbitrary pulled out of the pile is Jailbird.

Jailbird is more engaging as a cultural artifact than a novel. After a bizarrely long autobiographical introduction, Vonnegut introduces the protagonist Walter F. Starbuck, former public servant about to be released from prison for his role in the Watergate scandal (Vonngut also ties Starbuck to McCarthyism and, through the wealthy benefactor that pays for his college education, the labor movement of the early twentieth century).  The novel, written as a memoir, jumps back and forth through time telling as Starbuck recalls attending Harvard (the theme of being a “Harvard man” is thoroughly batted around), joining the Communist party in the late thirties,  joining government service and playing a major part in rebuilding a post-war Europe, getting sucked into Nixon’s dirty politics,  and then sent to prison.  The meat of the story takes place the two days following his release and subsequent destitute living in New York that leads to Starbuck becoming a Vice President at the omnipotent RAMJAC corporation, which pretty much owns EVERYTHING.

Vonnegut effectively explores a truly, though completely fictional, “American” life not just in politics but history.  It’s a fun light read that makes you reflect on the defining moments (both remembered and forgotten by the general public) in political affairs and how they affect the personal.  That being said, if you’ve ever read a Vonnegut novel, then none of the tropes used through this book will take you by surprise.  From autobiographical postmodern winks wrapped up in fractured chronology to heavy handed foreshadowing, hell there’s even half-cameo by Kilgore Trout—it’s almost as if Vonnegut reached a point where he had checklist to follow every time he sat down to write a novel.

I’m starting to think I’m overdosing on Vonnegut.

[Pic via Wikipedia.org]