October 30, 2012

Vonne Gut Reaction: Deadeye Dick

It's been too long. We've got four books - after today's review - left and a couple of months to finish this quest. So, let's get it on...

Today we take a look at Deadeye Dick, Vonnegut's second novel set in Midland, Ohio, home of Dwayne Hoover and the Mildred Barry Memorial Center for the Arts which we last saw welcoming Kilgore Trout in Breakfast of Champions. This book doesn't focus on Dwayne Hoover or the Arts Center, though both do play minor parts. We'll get to them in a few lines...

My thoughts as I read the book...(all pages refer to the 1982 edition, the printing with the iconic V-style cover)

  • p1 - "They say the year is 1982, and that I am fifty years old....Blah blah blah." For a man who has made a living out of telling stories, Vonnegut seems to show a large amount of disdain for the written word. His view seems to be that people live, people die, and not much of anything that happens really matters. Ah, humanism...
  • p12 - "My mother's peephole opened in Midland City in 1912." - Again we get Vonnegut's view of life as a very limited glimpse of the world. In Slaughterhouse 5, he described Earthlings' view of the world as being chained to a railcar able only to look at the world through a long pipe constantly travelling through the world. Vonnegut seems to prefer the Tralfamadorian view in which all time - past, present, future - are viewed as a whole. Here, though, we get humans and our peepholes on the world opening and closing as we are born and die.
  • p20 - "Father once said to me when he was an old man, after he had spent two years in prison, after he and Mother had lost all their money and art treasures in a lawsuit..." - Vonnegut again tells us the end - or at least what is coming - in the story long before he needs to, a common practice of his. 
  • p21 - "Little did I suspect back then that I myself, Rudy Waltz, would become a notorious murderer known as "Deadeye Dick." - Again, not even foreshadowing as much as total revelation of where we are headed.
  • p33 - "Midland City has now been depopulated by a neutron bomb explosion." - The future is again revealed with no fanfare whatsoever. In the opening preface, Vonnegut explains that the neutron bomb explosion represents his hometown of Indianapolis where the city still stands but where the people he knew are long gone.
  • p42 - Celia Hildreth is greeted by Rudy's father as though she were Helen of Troy. Vonnegut's women have often been placed on pedestals, unable to be real people, trapped as idealized lovers or beauties. Celia is such a woman, though we do eventually get to see her revulsion at this behavior, her confusion and hatred at her own gorgeous face because no one ever sees beyond this to the person that she really is. She eventually destroys this gorgeous face through the abuse of amphetamines and eventual swallowing of Drano.
  • p50 - "She was married to Dwayne Hoover, the Pontiac dealer" - Dwayne is back from Breakfast of Champions, and he appears throughout the book to be the same person with an unhappy wife - the aforementioned Celia - and a disowned, homosexual son who plays at the local piano bar. Celia eventually dies, and we are spared reliving Dwayne's devolution into insanity that is covered in Breakfast of Champions
  • p80 - "...a few months before the dedication of the Mildred Barry Memorial Center for the Arts" - The arts center plays heavily in Breakfast of Champions, and here we get a fair bit of background into its creation - the reasons for Fred T Barry's championing of the center, Rudy Waltz's mother's opposition to the center, Midland City's indifference to the center, the center's eventual fall because of lack of maintenance.
  • p81 - "No that I have known Haiti..." - Vonnegut's protagonists often find themselves ending their stories on tropical paradises - Galapagos, Cat's Cradle, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick. I wonder if Vonnegut at some point in his life visited a beautiful island locale and loved it that much, wishing to go back someday.
  • p93 - "There stood my mother, Emma, who was herself a child. Outside of school, she had never had any responsibilities, any work to do. Her servants had raised her as children. She was purely ornamental." - Again, a woman on a pedestal. At one point in the story, Vonnegut says that much of our lives is spent as epilogue, the declining action after our greatest moment. Rudy's mother's story was epilogue from the moment that she got married, so much of her life being largely pointless. In other words, she's a fairly typical Vonnegut female.
  • p133-4 - Rudy has a daydream about being a neuter and leading a parade of neuters. - Many of Vonnegut's characters - Dwayne Hoover, Billy Pilgrim, others - have these waking dreams that distract them from their humdrum lives.
  • p168 - "One of the ten greatest paintings in the world, as far as he was concerned, was 'Crucifixion in Rome,' by John Rettig...It now hangs in the Cincinnati Art Museum." - So much of Vonnegut's world is of a Midwest that I know, and often I wonder which of the things in it are real.  Apparently this one is real and is, indeed, housed in Cincinnati, Sadly, though, I can't find an image of it online.
  • p185 - In Rudy's play, Katmandu, Rudy tinkers "with the idea of having the voice of God coming from the back of the theater...The actress playing Celia could ask why God had ever put her on earth. And then the voice from the back of the theater could rumble, 'To reproduce. Nothing else really interests Me. All the rest is Frippery.' " -  Yup, that's pretty much Vonnegut to a tee. We're here for a while. We're born. We die. We should try to make each other happy - or at least not hurt each other, but it's all just frippery.
  • p221 - "He sold his company to the RAMJAC Corporation..." - We've seen the RAMJAC Corporation before, in Jailbird. Turns out that the copyright on this edition of Deadeye Dick is 1982 by the Ramjac Corporation
Deadeye Dick is a fine book, a fun read, a decent enough tale, but it is one of Vonnegut's lesser works. There isn't any theme here outside of that maybe random actions shape our lives - a bullet fired at random, a neutron bomb set off by accident, a freak snowstorm, a poorly chosen art tutor. We are products of these actions, none of which are meant for any reason, none of which are intentional choices. We simply are.

In this telling of that same tale by Vonnegut, though, there simply isn't much humor to be had. Life happens, and nobody chuckles here.

That's Vonnegut for ya.

Next up, my second reading of Gallapagos.

Other reviews of Deadeye Dick...

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