Gil Berman was conceived and born out of the toxic circumstances of my father’s life at that time. So, of course, Gil Berman and the story are quite ill, but there is hilarity, wisdom, and redemption along the way. No one but my father could cap the darkest, most honest moment in this story with a fart.
– from Nanette Vonnegut’s Foreword
This posthumous book has three parts. Each part is worth the purchase, for various reasons.
Part 1: Foreword
I cried when I read Vonnegut’s daughter’s foreword. He was such a damaged guy doing his best to make sense of a meaningless world. Turns out he’s exactly like the version of himself that he writes as a character into his own books – who would have guessed?
It’s like watching a ‘damaged messiah superhero’ movie to find out half way through they’ve decided to frisbee the usual tropes over the moon. At the end the hero stays damaged, but also, because of that, a real hero, and still just as morally accountable to the world. And it’s terribly sad, and it makes you feel ultra deep despair and solace at the same time.
Nanette writes beautifully, by the way.
Part 2: The first story
The sublime discovery: Vonnegut was once an ‘ordinary’ writer. For example, the opening:
“In many ways, Haley, this is the nicest room in the house, even though it is little and has only one window,” said Annie Cooley, a woman in her middle twenties. She sat on the edge of the cot, her heavy legs crossed, and watched her sixteen-year-old cousin unpack his small suitcase.
Good grief, it’s such a normal sentence. Drab even. And it was written by the great Kurt Vonnegut! Maybe there is hope for the rest of us yet!
There are signs of what’s to come, though. Every character has dignity, and good, and bad, and depth and shallowness. But I must say the ending was entirely unexpected.
Part 3: The last story
The fact Vonnegut only finished the first 6 chapters of this novel isn’t a hindrance to enjoying it. He’s a big believer in telling the reader at the start of the book just how it’s going to end. Good.
At the start I felt like it was a bit unpolished, but mostly in pacing. By the end I was laughing and crying at the same time. Nanette was right about the fart joke. Even so, it took me by surprise.
Compare the type of writing in this work to the previous extract:
Ash blew up again. “Who ever told you a comedian is supposed to be funny?” he said. “The great ones are heartbreakers, and that’s what you did to me tonight. Who are you? What are you? Where did you park your flying saucer?”
Ash told the nurse to get him out of “this firetrap.” His farewell to the flummoxed Berman? “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. Please take that as a compliment.”
Berman is, of course, a kind of Vonnegut alter-ego. You are a heartbreaker Mr Vonnegut. Bless you, bless you, bless you.
Front page image of asshole tote bag from Riverwestconcern on Etsy