Loree Rackstraw met Kurt Vonnegut when she was a determined but somewhat confused student and single mother attending a
writer’s workshop in 1965. There was something about the man… he asked her questions about her writing, incisive questions that helped clarify what she needed to do to get her stories moving. He was a big yet surprisingly winsome man who was on his way to becoming an American literary icon, albeit one who refused to sit comfortably on anyone’s shelf. Kurt, as Rackstraw makes clear in this poignant love story, was Kurt,
Rackstraw says of Vonnegut the writer:
“It was his ability to almost instantly perceive contrasting ideas that don’t initially seem related or to suggest historical parallels that most of us would miss – that marked his unusual creative dexterity and richly complex wisdom.”
She reveals him in this posthumous tribute as a graphics artist and peace activist, as a family man and contrariwise, a man capable of loving more than one woman, more than one wife, more than one mistress. He was also devoted to his children and interested in the lives of Loree’s as well, as though his heart was as wide as his imagination.
Vonnegut turned novel writing on its ear with the success of his early work,
Cat’s Cradle, followed soon after by the bestselling Slaughterhouse-Five. His stock in trade was mixing disarming whimsy with a crawling sense of outer darkness. His own life contained many ironies, beginning with the suicide of his mother on Mother’s Day when he was a teenager and his deeply scarring experience of World War II, including his incarceration in a German prison camp (called, in German,
"Slaughterhouse-Five" because it was located in a meat locker). While imprisoned, Kurt, of German descent, witnessed the bombing of Dresden, an act of senseless violence perpetrated on innocent civilians by the Allies in retaliation for a similar action by the Germans who destroyed the English cathedral city of Coventry. Coventry and Dresden were not tactical targets. Dresden, as the name suggests, was the home of beautiful craftworks, a dollhouse of a city that was bombed into near extinction, leaving Vonnegut with a lifelong pacifism and disgust with organized religion and politics.
In later years, along with writing, Vonnegut became a socio-political gadfly and sought-after lecturer, once delighting a campus audience with a “rap” version of Chaucer’s
Canterbury Tales as it would have sounded in Middle English. He also produced drawings and other artworks and continued to remain embroiled in complex family matters. He died in his eighties after a fall on icy pavement
Through all the years, Kurt Vonnegut phoned and wrote to Loree Rackstraw often. Her insider descriptions of the great author are at times delightful and always insightful. The only way in which the book falters is in Rackstraw’s apparent need to rationalize and excuse her relationship with Vonnegut, as though still apologizing to his wife and children, who must surely have known that he had feelings for his young protegee. There’s a lot of implication that the two did have a physical affair of brief duration, but after the years and given that this is no doubt going to be her only book on the subject, why merely imply? One wonders why she didn’t just come out with it, celebrate it, and give her readers more specifics.