Saturday, 7 March 2015

Deal Me in Challenge: 2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut

Card Drawn: Ace of Clubs.

2BR02B. That is the question...

Is that not an awesome title or what? I couldn't have picked a better card from the deck to start the Deal Me in Challenge. Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors that I have been meaning to read more from, especially since Slaughter-House Five is one of my favorite novels. He remains one of the best, if not the best, modern literary satirist of our time; an intelligent writer with a sardonic sense of humor and inimitable style whose caustic social commentary is thought-provoking as much as it is hilarious. I have always admired the talent of certain writers are able to write effective satire -- truth be told, not many come close to pulling it off with the sophistication and sharpness as Kurt Vonnegut. 

2BR02B would be classified as belonging to the dystopia science-fiction genre. The story takes place in the not so-distance future where population control is regulated by the state. There exist certain strict guidelines that must be followed concerning child-birth that involves...well, I've said enough already. Giving away the rest of the plot would ruin the fun of experiencing this wonderful story for yourself. Lately, I have been reading an exorbitant amount of short-stories to catch up with challenge (I'm currently 10 weeks behind, yikes!) and noticed several recurring patterns amongst a good portion of them: a sense of incompleteness, being abstract, haphazard, inchoate; essentially, they felt inconsequential. J.G. Ballard is a master of the short-story and he once said that "There have been plenty of perfect short-stories, but no perfect novels." He might be on to something there because 2BR02B is as close to a perfect short-story that I have ever come across. The novelist can get away with digressions, side-plots, elaborate descriptions or detailed exposition quite easily, but not the short-story writer. Crafted meticulously, Vonnegut doesn't fill the limited space with empty words; nothing is amiss or superfluous; he doesn't miss a beat. As always, his trademark wit and acerbic social critique hits all the right notes. However, it is the tightly wound story and stunning climax that left me in complete awe. What a brilliant ending! Many short stories seem disposable, like dime novels or pulp fiction. You read them once, get some kick out of it and then move on to the next one without dwelling much on it. 2BRo2B does not fall into that category and will linger in my mind for a long time to come.

Going back to that J.G. Ballard quote, it seems to be that great novels can be flawed because they have so much other story material to make up for their deficiencies whereas there is very little room for error when it comes to the short-story. The author must work within far more  rigid parameters, striving to be as concise as possible without compromising the integrity of the narrative. No easy task. Vonnegut somehow makes it look easy.


  1. Vonnegut was certainly a master of the short story. Over the years I've read almost all that he published. His collection Welcome to the Monkey house is probably the strongest, although I've also even enjoyed some of his lesser stories that were published posthumously. It was his success at selling his stories to the "slicks" that gave him the confidence to quit his job at G.E. in Schenectday and write full time. (Thankfully he was at GE long enough to accumulate lots of great story ideas.)

  2. This is the only short-story that I have read by him and it doesn't surprise me others like yourself would consider him of the masters of the craft. I will definitely have to track down "Welcome to the Monkey House" for sure. I need to take a lesson from Vonnegut: quit my dead-end job and start a writing career.

    Thanks for stopping by buddy! :)