Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jailbird - post I

Before starting this the only other Vonnegut book I had encountered was Slaughterhouse 5 and this starts in a similar way with a prologue that seems to be providing you with the motivation for the story and the background. It is enjoyable to read and written with feeling, particularly the bits about the strikers being shot, but all the time you are trying to work out what it has to do with prison or, after you turn the first page of the novel, how it relates to the Nixon era.

The same strange feeling of not knowing what was coming next was felt with Slaughterhouse 5 so there is a bit more comfort there that this is going to be fine and the references made in the prologue will become important.

Bullet points from the prologue and pages 1 - 40

* The prologue talks about all manner of things but mainly concentrates the story of the McCone family, which owned a steel plant and decided to put out strikers and leave them to starve rather than reemploy them after the strike had broken

* The strikers come to demonstrate and the McCone family have hired sharp shooters to shoot and sure enough 14 demonstrators are gunned down and the youngest son in the steel magnate's family Alexander becomes a stuttering wreck and leaves the family firm

* He has no friends with his wife and daughter living apart from him so he plays with the cook and driver's son who he decides should follow in his footsteps and become a Harvard man - there is a fair amount of stuff about the virtues, or lack of them, of being a Harvard graduate

* That chess playing boy grows up to have a role in the Nixon administration and end up being sent to prison along with a host of the presidents other political team for embezzlement and other crimes that spilt out from the Watergate affair

* The main book starts with the character of Walter Starbuck about to leave prison to try and pick up the pieces of his life with a son who hates him and a wife that died just a couple of weeks before he started his three year prison term

* Although it is for crimes commit ed by the Nixon administration he is behind bars he only came to the attention of the president once and was largely an non-entity that smoked and churned out memos and reports no one read from a basement room

* While he waits for the guard, Jimmy Carter's cousin to come and release him, one of the other inmates who has found religion comes to try and convert him and points out to the bitter and cynical Starbuck that he has no friends whatsoever so why not be friends with Jesus

That has hardly done justice top what is a clever, passionate and intricately weaved introduction but it should at least tempt you to pick this up and have a read. More tomorrow...

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