One of my great literary heroes is Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote my three favorite books: The Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse-Five. He published his last novel, Timequake, ten years ago. He died yesterday, at the age of 84.
So it goes.
The first Vonnegut book I ever read was Breakfast of Champions. I was in eighth grade, and I first picked it up to impress a girl. I remember it feeling like a light had suddenly been turned on. I was on page five and then suddenly I was at the end of the book, and I wanted more! That year I read every one of his books, and it was fantastic. I discovered a new literature–an American literature–that I had never known existed, and it breathed new life into me. Breakfast of Champions fascinated me as a piece of experimental literature; Slaughterhouse-Five made me mourn the woes that the world visits upon itself; and The Sirens of Titan, an epic science-fiction novel of tremendous emotional impact… that’s the only book I’ve ever read that makes me feel glad to be human.
Vonnegut is up in heaven now.
It is not an exaggeration at all to say that if it were not for Kurt Vonnegut’s writings, I would not today be a filmmaker. His novels saved me from a life of not caring about literature and language and stories, and that to me would have been a fate worse than death. It is because of Kurt Vonnegut’s writings that I started writing and kept writing and realized that stories are so powerful that they can hit you like a ton of bricks. Literature just hadn’t done that to me before. The end of The Sirens of Titan makes me weep every time I read it, and I’m not ashamed to say that. You go read that book, and then you’ll know what I mean.
Vonnegut was fond of writing epitaphs. In almost every one of his novels can be found a crudely-drawn gravestone, sporting a single phrase that seeks to sum up a person’s entire existence. I’ve just been poring over his books. I’ve looked and looked, but none of those epitaphs seem fitting here. But he did write somewhere that he felt the obligation to always end his stories in a specific way; one that emphasized the fact that no conflict reaches ultimate resolution, no story is ever finished, and the world just keeps on moving on. And I think that ending can serve just as well as anything else as the epitaph for the greatest writer of the 20th century: