Not a Knee-Slapper

Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut

Grade: B

Though Vonnegut never once mentioned the word granfalloon, this story is about the greatest group of granfalloons ever invented. The president of the United States thinks that artificial families will make everyone “lonesome no more,” so he designs a system of randomly-assigned middle names (e.g., Daffodil-11) to give each person an adopted family of thousands. After most of the population is decimated by disease, the president finds his way to Manhattan, where he becomes a sort of king in the ruins of the American way of life. The artificial families that he invented become the means by which people join together and help one another in the postapocalyptic world. It is utterly unbelievable, as is the backstory about the president’s birth and upbringing (he had a twin sister; both of them were monstrous-looking at birth and assumed to be idiots, so they were never educated, yet they developed a genius combined intellect).

So the story is so-so and the repetition of the phrase “Hi ho” is enough to drive one insane. Slapstick does not rank among Vonnegut’s best, but it is worth reading for the prologue. It’s a shame he didn’t write the rest of the book in the same vein.

My favorite passage is from the prologue.

Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.

I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please—a little less love, and a little more common decency.”

Next up in the Vonnegut Marathon is Jailbird. Give me a little time to recover from all that “Hi ho” and then we’ll see what Jailbird has to offer.

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