The recently released While Mortals Sleep, a collection of unpublished short stories by the late and great Kurt Vonnegut, provides marvelous insight into his development as a writer and his convictions as a human being. Following his own rules for writing short stories, set out in the video above, Vonnegut crafts works that don’t waste a minute of our time: every minute is savored, every sentence is necessary, and every character is worthy of our attention, if not our admiration. In allowing us to see the depths of possibility within each of his key characters, Vonnegut makes us understand the unlimited potential within ourselves for both being both good and bad. Vonnegut reminds us to guard against behaving badly (greedily, selfishly, vindictively) and to revere – and exercise – our potential for good.
In his introduction to the collection, Dave Eggers describes the stories as “mousetrap” stories, stories that lead us by the nose to a neat ending, complete with a twist and a moral. But we are led willingly and happily, for the twist is always a good one and the moral is always one worth remembering: money can’t buy happiness, people should be judged by their interior character and not their appearances, and anyone can change for the better, in any situation.
We learned much from Vonnegut when he was alive (see the recent wonderful blog posting from the A.V. Club, “15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will” ) and he has left behind for us so much to enjoy, to remember, and to discover all over again. We are the lucky ones, to be lured into his enduring mousetraps laced with enticing fun, goodness, and hopefulness.
If you’ve never read Vonnegut, these stories are a fine place to start; they were, after all, his start in the literary world, written when he was just starting out. But make sure to follow up with Slaughterhouse Five, Armageddon in Retrospect, and Cat’s Cradle. If you are a Vonnegut fan, these stories will provide satsify cravings for something new, and if you are not a fan, these stories might just turn you into one.
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