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Publisher's Summary

Perhaps the most autobiographical (and deliberately least disciplined) of Vonnegut's novels, Slapstick (1976) is in the form of a broken family odyssey and is surely a demonstration of its eponymous title. The story centers on brother and sister twins, children of Wilbur Swain, who are in sympathetic and (possibly) telepathic communication and who represent Vonnegut's relationship with his own sister who died young of cancer almost two decades before the book's publication. Vonnegut dedicated this to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Like their films and routines, this novel is an exercise in non-sequentiality and in the bizarre while using those devices to expose larger and terrible truths. The twins exemplify to Swain a kind of universal love; he campaigns for it while troops of technologically miniaturized Chinese are launched upon America. Love and carnage intersect in a novel contrived to combine credibility and common observation; critics could sense Vonnegut deliberately flouting narrative constraint or imperative in an attempt to destroy the very idea of the novel he was writing.

Slapstick becomes both product and commentary, event and self-criticism; an early and influential example of contemporary "metafiction". Vonnegut's tragic life - like the tragic lives of Laurel, Hardy, Buster Keaten and other exemplars of slapstick comedy - is the true center of a work whose cynicism overlays a trustfulness and sense of loss which are perhaps deeper and truer than expressed in any of Vonnegut's earlier or later works. Slapstick is a clear demonstration of the profound alliance of comedy and tragedy which, when Vonnegut is working close to his true sensibility, become indistinguishable.

©1976 Kurt Vonnegut (P)2015 Audible Inc.

What listeners say about Slapstick

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lonely No More!

“And how did we
then face the odds,
of man's rude slapstick,
yes, and God's?
Quite at home and unafraid,
Thank-you,
in a game
our dreams remade.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!

My 15-ear-old son broke the screen on his iPhone 6s. I'm letting him buy down the debt (to me) by reading 6 Vonnegut novels before the end of the year. Every book he reads, drops his big OWE down by $10, up to $60. He is still on the hook for the other $80. This is what happens when daddy is an absurdist, but rules like a fascist King. Hi ho.

So, I've decided to read a lot of the Vonnegut novels he's going to be reading before the end of the year too. It has been 30 years since I went on a huge Vonnegut tear. It seems in an era of Donald Trump I'm going to need as many absurdist tools on my belt as possible. What better way than a book about loneliness, incest (perhaps not, or technically yes, but also not), disease, the destruction of America, and the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped.

There are other, stronger Vonneguts where I could have started, but I'm also trying to go through my Library of America Vonnegut: Novels 1976-1985. Plus, it is hard to avoid a book that uses the phrase “Why don't you take a flying f#@% at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying f#@% at the mooooooooooooon?” often and with literary abandon.

As far as the stars, the book itself probably only warrants a Vonnegut 3-star (except for the fact that the autobiographical introduction is so good, I'm tossing in another star because, well, I can).

23 people found this helpful

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Painful

The performance was fine but the book was awful. I like Vonnegut a lot but this is possibly his worst work.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Lack of enthusiasm

I don't think the narrator did a good job of capturing the humor of the story. It felt like it was his first time reading it. Very little emotion put forth. I know the book is funny but this did not cut it.

1 person found this helpful

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Great but not the best

I am a much bigger fan of Breakfast, Slaughterhouse 5, and Cats Cradle. It's still a good story. Just didn't grab me till the end like the others.

1 person found this helpful

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Escape for such a time as this.

A perfect narration for this comic tale. Definitely hits home for my demographic...50 something year-olds

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Typical Vonnegut Strangeness

When I was in high school through my early 20s I read a lot of Vonnegut. I didn't think I had read this, but after about an hour I realized I had. It is strange, like most Vonnegut. It is relevant today because there were pandemics and unrest.

The beginning is autobiographical. Vonnegut talks about his family, his sister that passed away, his children, including his sister's children that he adopted. I had expected more about his life, but I think he did this through his story instead.

The main character is a twin with a sister, children of Wilbur Swain. We learn of their early life when doctors told the parents that the ugly children would be mentally incompetent. It reminded of how so many young children used to be institutionalized with things like Downs Syndrome, and how they never reach the potential they have when that happens.

The book is written from first person perspective of the son who becomes President of the United States. His sister passes away much like Vonnegut's sister passed away.

I like the book, but it's not my favorite of his, as evidenced by my 4 star review. The narration is good. It makes me want to get in the Vonnegut books I've missed. One additional note - I thought about "Welcome to Night Vale" and hadn't really thought about how much it seems to be inspired by writers like Vonnegut.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Slap it all on and see what will Stick

In the summer of 1976, while I was doing my semester abroad in Germany, I read an excerpt in Playboy of Kurt Vonnegut's forthcoming novel, Slapstick. And loved it. I had only recently discovered Vonnegut via Slaughterhouse-Five, then read his entire back catalogue, endlessly quoted Between Time and Timbuktu after it aired on PBS, and even liked in that particular moment his first novel post-S-5, Breakfast of Champions.

These days, I periodically return to Vonnegut to re-"read" him in audio, under the presumption that his idiosyncratic style would be especially suited to this format. I'm constantly surprised by my reactions -- the books I loved best rarely hold up (other than the always great S-5) while the ones that didn't really grab me then I now love (Mr. Rosewater, Mother Night).

I especially find myself agreeing with Vonnegut's self-assessment of his post-S-5 novels. He gave Breakfast of Champions a C and Slapstick a D. In hindsight, we know that Vonnegut was having trouble adapting to the fame and pressure that followed the success of S-5, the mental health issues experienced by his son Mark (chronicled in The Eden Express and part of the inspiration of Breakfast of Champions), and the passing of his sister, which he cited as the driving force behind Slapstick.

The passages of Slapstick that are about the history of Wilbur and Eliza Swain, the oversized Neanderthaloid genius twin siblings, are still good. The rest of it, not so much. Part of the problem is the blizzard of metaphor and symbolism, none of it subtle (e.g. variable gravity, artificial extended families, the Hooligan). And the cynicism is just relentless -- a selling point to a 20-something idealist in the 70s, but no longer attractive to a thoroughly jaded 60-something in post-truth pandemic times.

Strangely, the pandemic that led to the post-apocalyptic setting of Slapstick has many parallels to Covid, particularly the Chinese connection, and Vonnegut's imagined apocalypse seems quite possible in the current climate, and yet it feels all wrong, at least to me. Maybe that's part of my discomfort. That and not really liking this narrator's take on Hi-Ho (although to be fair, the whole conceit really leaves him no margin for error).

John Updike reviewing Slapstick in The New Yorker in 1976 loved it, Roger Sale reviewing it in The New York Times hated it and had harsh words for Vonnegut fans like myself, calling us ignorant youth -- 45 years later, I think he was wrong about the ignorance, although we were youth, wasting it away, but not wasting it on Vonnegut, even if I can no longer see why I liked Slapstick at the time, other than the iconoclasm. But Vonnegut's own self-rating is the one that endures.

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Deep simplicity

Perhaps it's too direct to say that you either get it, or you don't. Layers upon layers of allusion, touching on loneliness, populism, collaboration and sectarianism. And the inherent paradox of family as both a bonding agent and force for further subdividing humanity. It may not be Vonnegut's best (who's to say?), but it is not an incoherent mess as some of those who don't get it claim. Art is what you make of it, and this has plenty to offer. And I'm thankful for the light gravity, as well.

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classic Vonnegut, read well.

Beautifully read, timeless story. it's striking how Vonnegut can write novels and stories that are still appropriate and nerve-jarringly relevant. Hi ho.

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Great story

I really enjoyed this book. The narrator was excellent. I thought the story was great