This is Kurt Vonnegut at his satirical and comical best! “Slapstick or Lonesome No More” is a science fiction comedy that will have you guffawing. Dr. Wibur Daffodil-11 Swain, 2 meters tall, 100 years old, a former pediatrician and also a former President of the United States pens his quasi autobiography while taking refuge in the now derelict precincts of Manhattan. “The City of Sky Scrapers” is now the “City of Green Death” after being mercilessly assailed by a fatal strain of plague popularly termed “The Green Death”. Dr.Swain lives with his grand daughter, Melody Oriole-2 von Peterswald and her lover, Isadore Raspberry-19 Cohen. His nearest neighbour is approximately a kilometer and a half away from him and it is the famous and magnanimous owner of slaves, Vera Chipmunk-5 Zappa. Dr.Swain is an incorrigible and inveterate collector of candlesticks and hence is adoringly referred to as “The King of Candlesticks”.
The birth of Wilbur Daffodil Swain and his sister Eliza was in itself not an event to be remembered for reverie and celebrations. Two monstrous, ugly and misshapen kids, Wilbur and Eliza were a stupendous shock to their parents who unable to bear the sight of their wretched offsprings’ dispatch them to a sprawling mansion on a secluded asteroid. However beneath the ugly constitutional veneer lies two minds of great intelligence and intuition. Eliza and Wilbur ransack the humongous collection of books in a stately vault in the mansion. Even though Eliza is incapable of either reading or writing her photographic memory stores every minutiae of detail as Wilbur reads all his books aloud. However their happiness is rend asunder courtesy of a psychiatrist who recommends that the pair be separated. What follows is the story of the separated siblings who each go their own way to face the harsh predicaments of life.
Lacerating wit and dollops of skepticism makes “Slapstick and Lonesome No More” a splendid read. Uncannily similar in its contour to “Cats Cradle”(yet another Vonnegut masterclass), this very short book juxtaposes comedy with profundity. A dying and plague ridden Manhattan, Miniature Chinamen whose astonishing levels of intelligence extends to tampering with the powers of gravity and triggering natural calamities, an edict from the American President to share middle names etc all in a subtle sense depict the shambolic state of existence characterising humanity today. References to a “Dresden Candlestick” reveals the extent of pain caused to Vonnegut as a result of the Dresden bombing during which he happened to be on duty as a soldier in World War II. The references to Dresden also chillingly reminds us of the magnificent “Slaughterhouse Five”, arguably Vonnegut’s greatest and most indelible work.
John Updike in his review of the book said about Vonnegut, “In “Slapstick” he transmutes science fiction into something like medieval myth, and suggests the halo of process, of metamorphosis and recycling, that to an extent redeems the destructiveness in human history to which he is so sensitive”.
We can all agree that Vonnegut does what Updike deems him to and much more!