Title: Player Piano
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Length: 295 pages
“Anita, I love you.” The compulsion was upon him to tell her everything, to mingle his consciousness with hers. But as he momentarily raised his hand from the drugging warmth and fragrance of her bosom, cool, fresh air from the Adirendacks bathed his face, and wisdom returned. He said nothing more to her. – from Player Piano
It wasn’t until I read that paragraph on page 118 that I really began to appreciate Kurt Vonnegut.
I’m stubborn. People love Vonnegut. Especially nerdy literature geeks. I’m a nerdy literature geek. My friends love Vonnegut. I should love Vonnegut. But because I should, because I am appropriately quirky and should be his target market; because of these things, I’ve never cared for him much.
I wrote a character who adores him once. Whenever I read Vonnegut, I summon this character in my brain and try to feel his words the way she does. It gets me through the book… small details got me through Cat’s Cradle (Bokamaru! or somesuch nonsense).
Still, I am stubborn. The excitement that quote on page 118 gave me died down by page 150.
I wrote the character previously mentioned based on another friend’s love for Vonnegut a few years ago. My friend who loved Vonnegut is gone now, so any details on the passion are completely fabricated, only the source is rooted in anything real. My friend and I swapped paperback copies back and forth, and though it’s something I vaguely recall about him, it is not what we bonded over.
So, though he sits politely in my brain any time I pick up something Vonnegut related, I don’t remember which ones he read and which he had not. He had a habit of reading parts of a book and rarely finished many in their entirety. Was Player Piano something he read completely? What were his thoughts while he was reading it? Did he make it to page 118 – did he read those words about mingling consciousness?
I’m stubborn, but beyond being stubborn Vonnegut is tainted for me. There’s too much pressure. Too much connection and disconnection at the same time. Too much expectation.
“I’m more than halfway through this novel in a day and will finish before I go to sleep “, I journaled earlier tonight, “But I am not involved in the story. And my stomach is in knots.”
Instead of preparing for a book club meeting, my mind is with the dead. My mind is on the dead when I get to page 191, “He discovered that there was nothing disquieting about seeing himself dead. An awakening conscience, unaccompanied by new wisdom, made his life so damned lonely, he decided he wouldn’t much mind being dead.”
And when my mind is not with the dead, it is with the merely absent. It’s certainly not here. It’s certainly not in this book. It is on a bike ride with my friends – or off in the manuscript of my second novel that I wish I was finished with already.
So Vonnegut, you will always reside on my shelf. I love the familiarity of your spines and covers loitering in my library. I think you are important. You will not be forgotten, because “Well, sir, it hurts a lot to be forgotten.” And clearly, I think you are beautifully quotable at times. But I do not love you. I’m too stubborn.