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Look At the Birdie

by Kurt Vonnegut

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Look At the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
© Delacorte
This collection of fourteen new and previously unpublished short stories sparkles with the wit, the sarcasm, and the dark observations that only Kurt Vonnegut can offer. Rejoice that his voice is not yet stilled. Perhaps, if reading the last two paragraphs of a cogent introduction is any indication, there are other unpublished stories yet to be revealed. Sidney Offit, a long-time Vonnegut friend, writes, "The discovery of this sampling of vintage Vonnegut" certainly implies there is more to be revealed. And, so it goes - we hope.

Each story is a small gem that will find its way proudly into the Vonnegut canon. The title story is a good example. "Look at the Birdie" examines paranoia as only Vonnegut can. A man walks into a bar and sits beside another man sitting at the bar. The second man is talking loudly about killing someone he hates, and the first man offers to kill him for Man 2, whereupon Man 2 says, "You're crazy." True, Man 1 says, the perfect alibi. Since he'd been in and out of mental institutions all his life any good defense lawyer could "prove" he was crazy and that any admission that he was hired by Man 2 would be thrown out. Things go from bad to worse, of course, but the story is told so elegantly.
"Ed Luby's Key Club" is a story told a thousand times in the movies and in novels. The bad guy takes over the town, an innocent person runs afoul of his power and is about to be railroaded, when the good guy shows up in the nick of time with a chance to rescue the innocent. It is the story of the Nazi takeover of Germany, except that here someone stands up to the evil and does the right thing. Vonnegut skillfully builds the tension toward a climax that should leave the reader cheering - in part because this is one writer who does not always permit things to "work out" the way the reader might like.

In "The Good Explainer," a couple comes to the office of Dr. Leonard Abekian "in a bad part of Chicago." Unable to conceive a child, the wife has told her husband that she has "heard" that Abekian is a miracle worker who can solve their problem. Indeed, he does exactly that, but with a twist that a negative O. Henry might have written. Or, as Oscar Wilde observed, "Revenge is a meat best served cold." Vonnegut takes this a step further and shows us that revenge can also cut a different way and hurt the innocent.
These stories clearly fulfill one of Vonnegut's famous rules for writing: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time is wasted." None of these stories is a waste of time. In fact, each is a pleasure to read and will, for a brief time, remind us of the genius that was Kurt Vonnegut.
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