Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Happy Birthday Wanda June Summary and Settings

Happy Birthday, Wanda June Summary

Happy Birthday, Wanda June presents the return of Harold Ryan and Colonel Looseleaf, two ‘classic’ American heroes. Ryan, an explorer and Looseleaf, who dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, have been in the Amazon Rain Forest for the past eight years and return home, with Ryan in particular expecting a welcome celebrating the duo’s triumph over other lands. When the two war veterans arrive back in the United States, they’re surprised that their families and even the perceptions surrounding heroic acts have moved on. Ryan’s wife, Penelope, has rejected the past violent glories of her husband, instead preferring the company of Dr. Norbert Woodly, a “healer” to Ryan’s “killer”. Looseleaf’s family has also moved on.

Ryan and Looseleaf find themselves in each others company once again, trying to make sense of the changing world. Ryan attempts to find something physical to attack and conquer, whereas Looseleaf begins to question the heroic connotations of bombing Nagasaki, noting that “anybody who’d drop an atom bomb on a city has to be pretty dumb.” The play ends with a stand-off between Ryan and Dr. Woodly, with the former realising his own “irrelevance”. However, Woodly’s character is also at fault, with Penelope noting that they’re “both disgusting – with your pride, your pride”. Happy Birthday Wanda June explores the relationship between war  and traditionally conceived perceptions of heroes and challenges the apparent relationship between violence and valour.

Sugar Creek, Midland City, Ohio

Readers who are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, such as Breakfast of Champions, will have felt a tinge of recognition when Colonel Looseleaf discusses Sugar Creek. In Happy Birthday, Wanda June Looseleaf briefly discusses his role in his local scout troop, suggesting that the only scout badge he remembers getting is Public Health. As Looseleaf explains: “That was a bitch. The Boy Scout Manual said I was supposed to find out what my town did about sewage. Jesus, they dumped it all in Sugar Creek”. Sugar Creek is the gloopy, polluted creek Kilgore Trout crosses on the way into Midland City, in Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut discusses the pollution of the creek in the novel, noting that The Maritimo Brothers Construction Company, which is meant to be safely disposing waste from the Barrytron plant (a plastics company), is really siphoning the waste into Sugar Creek. Much like Trout, who unwittingly discovers the sheer scale of the pollution after his feet are encased in a plastic substance, Looseleaf learns about the waste disposal habits of Midland City, the hard way.

Looseleaf’s town, Midland City, is also home to the likes of Rudy Waltz, the protagonist of Deadeye Dick, as well as Dwayne and Celia Hoover (of Breakfast of Champions and Deadeye Dick).

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Any Reasonable Offer Summary and Settings

Any Reasonable Offer Summary

Kurt Vonnegut's "Any Reasonable Offer" charts the relations between a real estate agent, his pushy clients and two very convincing phonies (“Colonel” Peckham and his wife). Colonel Peckham and his wife suggest that in order to purchase any of the luxurious homes they visit with the agent they first have to live in them, in order to “get the newness” out. After the Peckham’s spend time in the properties of Mr Hurty and Mrs Hellbrunner (two of the real estate agent’s clients), they head home to Philadelphia. It’s only when the agent tries to reach Colonel Peckham that he realises that the couple never intended to purchase any of the properties and merely wished to holiday in them for free. In a humorous twist, at the end of the story the real estate agent reveals he’s “getting the newness” out of “the Van Tuyl estate” in Newport, Rhode Island, just like the Peckhams did with his client’s properties.

Mrs Hellbrunner’s “Fortified Castle”

The narrator of "Any Reasonable Offer", a real estate agent, almost despairs at the prospect of trying to sell Mrs Hellbrunner’s home, which he describes as suitable for a “special sort of person”, or an “escaped maniac”. The real estate agent reveals the house has been on the market for three years and features several rooms (twenty-seven, in total), as well as unique features such as “turrets with slits for crossbow men” and “a dry moat”. Colonel Peckham and his wife express an interest in Mrs Hellbrunner’s “fortified castle”, but do not mention any intention of purchasing it, only suggesting that “it’s perfectly astonishing what you can get for a hundred thousand.”

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle – San Lorenzo and Other Settings

Kurt Vonnegut Cats Cradle
This post covers San Lorenzo and Ilium, as well as other settings discussed in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle.

Cat’s Cradle Summary
Cat’s Cradle was written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1963 and depicts both a world frozen by “ice-nine” and the religion of Bokononism. The story follows John, an author who initially begins writing a book about the events of Hiroshima, but is soon caught up in the lives of the Hoenikker family (Angela, Newt and Frank), whose father helped create the atom bomb. John is asked to write an article about a resident of San Lorenzo, Julian Castle, but this is sidetracked by events which take place on the island. San Lorenzo’s president, “Papa”, dies after swallowing ice-nine, a chemical which can freeze an entire body of water and melts at 45.8 °C. Frank asks John to become “Papa’s” successor, but before the narrator can do so, disaster strikes and “Papa’s” Castle begins to collapse. The ice-nine riddled body of “Papa” slides into the water below, freezing the oceans and stopping life in its tracks. While living through the effects of ice-nine, the narrator writes a memoir of the events of San Lorenzo, which is the novel itself, Cat’s Cradle. The novel ends with Bokonon, the creator of Bokononism, writing the final sentence of The Books of Bokonon and it’s hinted that the narrator freezes himself by taking “some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men” and making “a statue” of himself” “grinning horribly and thumbing my nose at You Know Who”.

San Lorenzo: The Fictional Setting in Cat’s Cradle

Arguably the main setting of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, the various buildings and geographical features of San Lorenzo are referenced throughout the novel. Indeed, one of the first introductions to San Lorenzo the reader is offered in Vonnegut’s tale is the supplement in the NY Sunday Times. When the narrator, John, manages to tear himself away from the image of Mono Aamons Monzano which is printed in the supplement, we’re informed that the republic “was fifty miles long and twenty miles wide”.  In “An Underprivileged Nation” the reader is offered a glimpse of the island from the air; according to the narrator, San Lorenzo “was an amazingly regular rectangle”, with “cruel and useless stone needles…thrust up from the sea” surrounding it.

San Lorenzo has a population of 450,000 (although this of course isn’t the case by the end of Vonnegut’s novel) and as the narrator explains later on in Cat’s Cradle “there were four hundred and fifty inhabitants for each uninhabitable square mile” in the republic. The citizens of San Lorenzo live in poverty, although various leaders, including “Papa Monzano” attempted to “raise the people from misery and muck”. However, even though San Lorenzo appears to be doomed to failure, The Sunday Times includes an outline of “Papa”’s and Frank Hoenikker’s “master plan”, which would include:

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Updates and Fictional Islands...


Firstly, I must apologise that the next installment of the blog is a little late. I'm currently working on a settings guide for Cat's Cradle and given the fictional nature of the island* the novel is set on (well, a large proportion of the novel is set on), it's taking a little while.

Alongside this, I'll also make sure to post a few more Kurt Vonnegut short story guides, as well as information on Vonnegut's novels.

So, that's where we are, right now. Thank you for visiting and stay tuned (or, online), for the next update. Finally, I'll leave you with a word from Vonnegut:

"Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."

*Speaking of fictional islands, you may be interested in this Guardian April Fools' Day gag.