Friday, 25 January 2002

Kurt Vonnegut: Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)

Edition: Jonathan Cape, 1999
Review number: 1051

Even relative to the generally cavalier attitude to stories of many short story writers at the time, Vonnegut must have been exceptional in his carelessness. In fact, he lost track of where some of his stories had been published, and the ones collected here were tracked down by Peter Reed. Some of the stories published here have been quite extensively rewritten, apparently, and all of them have been lost for over thirty years.

Vonnegut is generally considered a science fiction author, yet only a couple of the twenty four stories in the collection could be classified in this genre. (Fans of his from the genre will probably be rather disappointed by Bagombo Snuff Box as a result.) Most of them are set in midwest America, and the theme that a lot of them have is pretence - particularly maintaining or creating a facade of superiority. People return to their home towns after years away, and try to pass themselves off as more successful than they are. Many are amusing, and all are written in the simple yet effective style typical of Vonnegut's work. He seems to have abandoned short story writing following the collapse of many of the American magazines which published them in the early sixties with less regret than other writers, and the sameness of these stories is perhaps indicative that they were not to be the field in which he would produce his best writing. Bagombo Snuff Box is interesting, but not great.

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