the Little Red Reviewer

Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview, edited by Tom McCartan

Posted on: September 1, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations, edited by Tom McCartan

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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It’s been a while since I read any Vonnegut, but as soon as I saw this book I knew I had to have it. Sure, I’ve read plenty of Vonnegut, but I could count on one hand the things I knew about his personal life: he was very close with his sister, he studied chemistry, he was a prisoner of war in Dresden when it was bombed by the Allies. I accidentally learned that his family thought he was very strange. *

The Last Interview actually contains six interviews, spanning thirty years, from 1977 to 2007, and it’s interesting to see what changes over the years, and what says the same. In the first interview, a special edition of Slaughterhouse Five is coming out, and he’s been asked to write a special introduction for it. In a later interview, Playboy is interviewing Vonnegut and Joseph Heller at Heller’s home, and in a yet later interview, Heller has already passed away.   Vonnegut’s opinions on war and family never changes (he’s against the first, and for the second).

After the small talk of “what are you working on now?” and the like, every interviewer wants to ask the same thing: what was it like being in Dresden?  Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut’s most famous work, was inspired by his experiences there, and all the interviewers want to know what it was really like. And in his casual, newspaperman, just-the-facts way, Vonnegut tells them. that Dresden was a beautiful city. and then it was gone.  He wonders how he survived it. He offhandedly remarks that due to the profits of Slaughterhouse Five, he actually made money off the bombing. Like when I was reading Slapstick, I had no idea if I was supposed to laugh or not.

Other topics that come up again and again are Vonnegut’s feeling that everyone should have an extended family,  and that the closest he came to studying writing was being the editor of the student run newspaper at his high school. he was pushed into studying chemistry, and then after returning from the war he studying anthropology. He jokes that when asked where the best new authors are, he says something along the lines of “not in the English departments”.  ouch. but as always, brutally honest.

My favorite Vonnegut novel is Cat’s Cradle, so it was fun to learn that some of the characters in that book are based on people he actually knew, with names being changed to protect the innocent, and guilty, of course.  In an interview in the early 1980s, he mentions a book he’s working on about a young boy who finds his father’s gun, and wants to shoot it, just for fun. So he aims away from all the houses, thinking that will be safe. and he shoots. and ends up killing a pregnant woman, and being charged with double murder. The book would become Deadeye Dick.

One of my favorite interviews is the one done at Joseph Heller’s house, they were both interviewed by Playboy. I had no idea Vonnegut and Heller were friends, but it makes sense that they should be. it’s just words on a page by now, but you can see them smiling, and hear them laughing in the words, as they pass inside jokes back and forth.

I enjoyed seeing Vonnegut through these interviews. His writing always strikes me as optimistically fatalistic – where everyone is relatively satisfied with their lot in life, at peace with the fact that the world is pretty much fucked. And Vonnegut seems to reflect that, he really did write what he knew. But he’s so damn sunny about it, so damn happy to be alive and interacting with everyone. but still, optimistically fatalistic.

Vonnegut retired from fiction writing in the late 90s, and focused on political articles and artwork. It’s weird, but I’ve barely read anything of his that he published after 1985 or so. I should really fix that. I didn’t even know he was an artist. some fan I am!

At less than 200 pages, The Last Interview is easily read in a few sittings. I’ve already read it twice, and can see it becoming one of those books that I go to when I need something quick and satisfying. Like an anthology, you can read one or two of the interviews, or all of them, or in any order you want.  The very last one, truly is, the very last one. it’s from February 2007. Vonnegut died that April, the interview was published in May. If you’re a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, this is a book you should watch for.

* true story. Around 2004 I was working at a customer service call center, and we had to get the first and last names of all incoming callers. A caller said her last name was Vonnegut, and when she began spelling it, I interrupted and said “spelled like the author’s name?”, and she said yes, and seemed surprised I knew who he was. I said he was one of my favorite authors, and she said she was a second cousin (or maybe third?) of his. I must have said something like how wonderful it was to be related to him, because she said “not really. he’s very odd to be around”.

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2 Responses to "Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview, edited by Tom McCartan"

How interesting that you had a connection to Vonnegut. Great post!

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I think I completely weirded that lady out. :(

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