Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick is true to it’s title. It’s a profoundly absurd, absurdly profound book. To the first description, the book follows a fictional, mutant U.S. President’s rise and fall from power; to the second, it allegorizes the author’s love for his sister.
Vonnegut’s ability to connect the personal and political are on display in Slapstick. He talks about his deep respect for his siblings via direct and indirect commentary at the same time as social-political alienation via blood and human family stories of struggle and difference.
Despite all this, I felt the end of Slapstick was a bit flat. Perhaps this a result of the story’s great beginning. And to his ending’s credit, he does offer this in the way of grandeur:
“And how did we then face the odds,
“Of man’s rude slapstick, yes, and God’s?
“Quite at home and unafraid,
“In our dreams remade.”
The lines are a consolation to an otherwise depressing conclusion for the protagonist (Wilbur Swain neither gets reunited with his sister nor manages to create a successful, lasting marriage.). It seems as if Vonnegut is saying that the more publicly connected a life a person leads, the less so their private one. It’s a conclusion in step with other mid-western writers. For Hemingway, Foster Wallace there is no personal salvation, either. ’[S]uffer like a man’ (The Old Man and the Sea), and ‘no one is going to save you’ (The Pale King), we’re told. For there is only public grace.