“There is a planet in the Solar System where the people are so stupid they didn’t catch on for a million years that there was another half to their planet.” – Kilgore Trout
I finished Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. which is a tough book to categorize. It is labeled as a novel and there are some parts credited to Kilgore Trout that are stories or fragments of stories. But Kurt enters frequently as himself adding passages that are autobiographical. It is a bit of a memoir, but since he treats fictional author Trout as a real person that he interacted with in life, the line is blurry.
“And so it goes…”
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published this in 1997 and it is his last “novel.” He died in 2007. Vonnegut described the book as a “stew” and it is that. Less of a novel and more of him summarizing a novel he had been trying to put together for years.
All that makes it sound like the book is a mess, but it’s not. I enjoyed it. Not as much as his other novels but three-star Vonnegut is still more enjoyable than a lot of other writing.
“And so it goes…”
What is a timequake? It is a repetition of actions. A quake in the continuum of Time.
The timequake in the book has quaked citizens of the year 2001 back in time to 1991. This global time travel is Einsteinian in that everyone is forced to repeat every action they undertook during that time. Kilgore Trout writes all over again every story he wrote the first time
So, in this story, Vonnegut is pondering free will, which after the timequake does not exist. Maybe it didn’t exist before. Vonnegut has explored determinism in earlier works.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
Kilgore Trout is a fictional character created by Vonnegut who is an unsuccessful author of paperback science fiction novels. We are told here that Trout died in 2001, at the Xanadu retreat in Rhode Island. Perhaps Kurt knew that his own end was near or was just thinking and preparing for it.
He said that he wasn’t happy with the first version of this book and so he went back and rewrote it and included more of his personal thoughts, anecdotes about his family and death. The deaths of Trout and also loved ones, and the last words of people.
He also brings in lots of depression and sadness that comes from observing our own bad choices and those of other people. There might be some relief after the timequake because then we would know that there was no free will. You can’t blame yourself for what happens if you don’t have the tree will to make those decisions. Can you?
“I didn’t need a timequake to teach me being alive was a crock of shit. I already knew that from my childhood and crucifixes and history books.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
Vonnegut has played with time before. People famously became “unstuck” in time in Slaughterhouse-Five, and here people have to watch loved ones die again. A drunk driver will again get drunk and cause a fatal accident.
When the timequake ended you might think people were happy, but no. Now they have control, free will, and it’s all up to them to screw up on their own.
“And so it goes…”
Kilgore Trout is not as sad or apathetic as others and he keeps telling people “You were sick, but now you’re well, and there’s work to do.”
“My wife thinks I think I’m such hot stuff. She’s wrong. I don’t think I’m such hot stuff.
My hero George Bernard Shaw, socialist, and shrewd and funny playwright, said in his eighties that if he was considered smart, he sure pitied people who were considered dumb. He said that, having lived as long as he had, he was at last sufficiently wise to serve as a reasonably competent office boy.
That’s how I feel.”
* All quotations are Kurt Vonnegut