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Get *Timequake* delivered to your door! Timequake
Kurt Vonnegut
Berkley Trade
272 pages
August 1998
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Saying farewell to a beloved author is never easy. It's no easier when a master satirist like Kurt Vonnegut bids writing adieu. Vonnegut proclaims Timequake to be his swan song, the last long fiction he will ever write. Vonnegut cites his age, saying that at seventy-four he's long past his prime. He credits his literary retirement also to the recent death of his last remaining sibling, his older brother Bernie. "I was the baby of the family," he writes. "Now I don't have anybody to show off for anymore."

Curled Up With a Good BookThe author of such skewed beauties as Slaughterhouse Five and Sirens of Titan gives the world a fitting parting gift with Timequake. We get to spend a final book in the company of Vonnegut's alter-ego, Kilgore Trout, and with the author himself in his own voice. Vonnegut writes that Timequake in its original incarnation failed to work as a novel after he had worked on it for nearly a decade. The book in its final, published form he urges readers to think of as "a stew made from [the original story's] best parts mixed with thoughts and experiences during the past seven months or so." The first Timequake (which he refers to as Timequake One) describes a rerun in time of a decade's length, where people have to do exactly what they've done for the past ten years a second time, aware of what is happening but utterly incapable of doing things any differently. The real disaster of the timequake ocurrs when it is over on February 13th, 2001, when free will kicks in again. The population, so used to running on automatic pilot for ten years, is slow to respond to the sudden need for purposeful action. Free will is back, but nobody does anything with it. Planes and automobiles crash, people fall down midstride; general chaos ensues for a time.

Timequake is indeed the stew Vonnegut describes in the prologue. He muses about misuses and abuses of free will the world has seen, including the development and deployment of nuclear weapons. He tells us of the worldviews, both cynical and optimistic, of the people he has loved the most. He considers favorably the comforting powers of religion, although he himself is not a religious man. He waxes nostalgic about his life as a writer, a humanist, and a human being. What comes through most strongly in Timequake is Vonnegut's frustration with a world that doesn't try to make living life the best possible experience for all of its inhabitants. His disappointment at society's failures colors the apparently fatigued resignation with which he approaches his waning ability to produce a satisfyingly cohesive piece of the written word.

Vonnegut's avowed final work shows the author in as intimately personal a light as readers of his novels have every seen. It's touching, sad, and smoldering still with his indignance at a nonsensical world that refuses to show enough collective common sense to make itself a better place. Timequake is an appropriate farewell of the bitterly fond and bemusedly satiric sort, just right for one of this century's best.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Sharon Schulz-Elsing, 1998

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