Whether examining World War II through the viewpoint of an alien-abducted soldier or chronicling the nuclear winter apocalypse, you can expect Kurt Vonnegut to craft quite the interesting novel. With Jailbird Vonnegut follows Walter F. Starbuck, a fictional bit player in the Watergate scandal. Told as a fictional memoir of Starbuck’s rise and fall, Jailbird is a humorous, dark, if confusing novel that is very Vonnegut. While it is not essential for the non-Vonnegut reader, anyone who can’t get enough of the late great surely won’t want to pass up this little gem.
Walter’s rise almost mimics classic novel (and recent Oprah’s Book Club selection) Great Expectations. Humble beginnings and a benefactor to pay for his Harvard education seem to pave out a clear path to success, but from some early-on scenes of Walter leaving prison with little more than the clothes on his back, we see his fate has not gone how everyone thought it would. Who among us can’t relate to that? What follows is Starbuck’s journey to New York City where he comes into contact with an old flame, now the head of a huge and mysterious conglomeration, RAMJAC.
Most of the novel’s timeline takes place in quick succession once our protagonist arrives in New York, but the flashback sequences are quite well-placed and well-written, heartfelt and informative. The way Starbuck views his past live in connection to the women he loved not only makes for great character description while also lending a sense of memoir to this novel.
Bottom Line: Expect the unexpected when reading Kurt Vonnegut. Jailbird is no different. Lots of twists and turns will keep you excited, especially past the halfway point in this novel. Four stars.
You can find a copy of Jailbird at your local chain bookstore, online, or click here to find an independent bookstore in your neighborhood.