Jailbird is not what you’d expect from Kurt Vonnegut’s fertile imagination.
Jailbird is a fictional memoir combining a few oddball characters with a raft of real characters who commit immoral and criminal acts in public places.
Jailbird’s fictional narrator, Walter F. Starbuck, can do nothing right, even when he follows good advice.
The son of immigrant employees of a millionaire industrialist who sends him to Harvard, Walter holds a federal job until he inadvertently betrays a friend and is fired.
Walter’s wife to support him.
Walter finally gets work again in the Nixon administration, where he gets caught in the Watergate scandal and goes to jail.
Released in 1977, he goes to New York where he unlawfully fails to reveal a will and soon is on his way back to jail.
Vonnegut cannot avoid including a few laugh-out-loud wise cracks and off-beat perspectives on ordinary life, but on the whole Jailbird is a dark novel.
Vonnegut uses the fictional Walter to examine the real history of labor relations in the U.S., the Sacco and Vanzatti trial, the McCarthy investigations of subversive elements, and the unequal distribution of wealth in America.
Vonnegut’s Walter, when asked why he concerns himself with the working class responds, “Why? The Sermon on the Mount, sir.”
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, ©1979. 246 p.
1979 bestseller #5 My grade: B
©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni