Welcome To The Monkey House
Reviewing Vonnegut is hard. It’s harder to review something you enjoyed than something you will enjoy criticizing. It’s easy to be a critic. Casting stones at the labor of another requires little talent. Finding areas for celebration requires a touch of empathy and labored understanding. I greatly enjoyed “Welcome to The Monkey House”. I hope my review will express how stories can fill with world with happiness.
It’s a waste to read Vonnegut’s entire collection in one go. It’s much more desirable to thumb through a novel in undetermined intervals. When Vonnegut appears, you take it. Such was the case three weeks ago when I visited the local library in Silver Spring. I was passing through the stacks on my way to checkout when a dash of lime green fluttered by my feet. There it was... “Welcome to The Monkey House”. So I plucked it from its residence only to uncover a neighbor “The Sirens of Titan”. Destiny spoke, and who am I to talk back? I took them both.
Vonnegut’s words flow from the pages like a string of pearls sliding off a table edge onto a velvet pillow. Simply opening the pages creates a vortex which pulls the reader over the edge into the vivid worlds of Vonnegut. Any fan or Kurt Vonnegut understand that his words crisscross paper like brushstrokes on canvas. In my opinion Vonnegut is an impressionist painter of words. His short stories are sparks of paint that can be found throughout his novels.
“Welcome to The Monkey House” is a vivid assortment of love, courage, science, and compassion presented through a house of mirrors. Each story reflects part of life. In some such as ‘The Hyannis Port Story’ mirror is curved no more than stained glass, while ‘Report on The Barnhouse Effect’ is big curvy thing that shrinks and lengthens the reflection to absurdity. It’s through absurdity that Vonnegut is able to highlight how ridiculous we all are, and that it’s normally quite alright.
As a collection of short stories “Welcome to The Monkey House” makes a great travel companion. Each is unique even though some are presented through the same character. The brilliance is that the character is never named but is recognized through details of circumstance. Others are standalone stories such as the books namesake. ‘Welcome to The Monkey House’ (the short story) is utterly ridiculous in a way that only Vonnegut can present it. It’s a world were overpopulation is corrected by suicide parlors and birth control that numbs from the waist down. The story seeks to demonstrate the importance of love, and that a life without love is no life at all.
Love, and actions to prevent it are a running theme in “Welcome to The Monkey House”. In the preface Vonnegut mentions that “My first marriage worked, and continues to work. My wife is still beautiful.” Such is the core thesis of so much that Vonnegut has written. To love another person is the peak of existence. The cruel irony is that Vonnegut found divorce three years after “Welcome to The Monkey House” was published. It’s ok though. He found love again and stuck with it until the end.
Kurt Vonnegut is a master at conveying what it means to be human. In ‘Harrison Bergeron’ fanciful dystopian futures he points to the absurdity of making everyone equal through artificial handicaps such as weights and masks. When a brief glimmer of greatness is revealed it does wonders to those who witness. Inspiration comes from impressive people doing remarkable things. Some people benefit from being born attractive and strong while others hit a life-long lucky streak. By crafting a world that attempts to nullify luck and attractiveness Vonnegut unveils the misery of measuring your lot against your neighbors and that allowing jealousy to manifest into action only serves to bring everyone to a level of mediocrity. But at least everyone is equally mediocre.
So try to not criticize the works of others. Instead celebrate in their success and enjoy a happier life.
Welcome to The Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Published by Dial Press (September 1998)