Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kilgore Trout

Today brought the sad news of the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.. Few people have ever been able to match his dry sense of humor. I was intrigued ever since I first read Player Piano in my 11th grade English class.

In Cat's Cradle, a man is stranded in a very poor country. To detract the poor from their plight, the guro who founded the Bokonon religion persuaded the dictator of the country to ban the faith as a way to increase its intrigue. People who were found to practice faced immediate execution with a giant hook. The Book of Bokonon is passed clandestinely among residents. The main character revels as having read the entire Fourteenth Book of this gospel, entitled "What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” The entire text of that book: "Nothing." (My impression is that, on top of being a bit of a cynic, Kurt Vonnegut was not particularly optimistic.)

A character who recurs in several books is the unfortunate author Kilgore Trout. Mr. Trout has one fan--an eccentric millionaire named Elliott Rosewater--but every time Mr. Rosewater attempts to contact Mr. Trout through his last publisher, it turns out that the publisher has gone out of business. (Perhaps Mr. Trout might have found more of a niche audience today, thanks in part to blogs and other online media). Even with book royalty checks never maerialializing, Mr. Trout does not get paid for his short stories, either. They are printed without payment by publishers of hard core pornography material who need some text to accompany their filthy pictures. In fact, the sleezy publishers don't even send Mr. Trout a "tear sheet" of his article, so Mr. Trout has to hunt for his published articles in used book stores. One day, Mr. Trout catches a ride with a truck driver, and the discussion turns to Mr. Trout's occupation. The trucker complains that he once had to spend a week-end in jail before his arraignment for a traffic violation. The jail was in a town that housed a major recycling plant, and old magazines are used in the place of toilet paper in the jail. The trucker remembers this awful short story he endured reading. As the trucker describes the story, Mr. Trout realizes that it is one he wrote.

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