Kurt Vonnegut had a knack for describing the modern world with pensive eloquence. His approach to writing was delicate and darkly humorous, melancholy yet ablaze with passion. Written ten years prior to his death, the delightfully sardonic Timequake (1997) is an unapologetic and unmitigated dive into the mind of the seventy-four year old writer, clearly aware that he was crafting his last novel. In Timequake Vonnegut doesn’t curtsy. Within the first few pages he quotes his fictional analogue Kilgore Trout, declaring bluntly that “being alive is a crock of shit.” Vonnegut, in his narrative, agrees with Trout, “no one asks to be born in the first place.” The seasoned Vonnegut fan immediately senses his smirk.
Hardly a novel and hardly an autobiography, Timequake can’t be described as having a linear storyline but is rather a potpourri of ideas alternating with a thin plot. The inclusion of runaway personal narratives in Vonnegut’s tales are nothing new to readers, as even his most seminal works like Slaughterhouse-Five use them extensively. Timequake takes this element to the extreme, for long stretches abandoning all story and free-falling into nostalgic ramblings, lovable as they are.
Vonnegut takes no shame in describing his process. He explains that Timequake spawns from a concept that he deems Timequake One, his first draft of the novel that was eventually rejected. The premise: at an unimportant moment, 2:27 p.m. on February 13th 2001, the universe hiccups causing time to leap backward. Unwittingly everyone is forced to relive the last ten years, the resultant lack of free will leaving them as powerless spectators to their decisions and mistakes. The ten year encore expires and free will becomes reinstated again at the moment of the Timequake. The resultant chaos is seen through the eyes of the bumbling Kilgore Trout. The final draft called Timequake Two became a loose extension of the original concept, the process yielding a moony autobiography smattered with plot points from his rejected effort.
Questions regarding the existence of God, the soul, and that pesky free will problem are frequently provoked in his novel. A humanist (belief in ethics and justice while rejecting belief in a deity), Vonnegut presents an intriguing brand of maybe-but-probably-not agnosticism. One would expect that the secular opinions blatant in Timequake would leave the reader feeling somewhat nihilistic, but curiously the opposite occurs. One can’t help but feel a lingering sense of spirituality upon finishing the book. Timequake is whimsical and sprightly, a gentle shrug, a cartoon and lavish pen strokes. Somehow it feels like it was the most appropriate way for Kurt Vonnegut to go out. It is certainly not the typical Vonnegut novel, but really, how much about Vonnegut was typical to begin with?
Writer: Dan Stuart
Location: Ontario, Canada
Dan Stuart hails from southern Ontario, a recent graduate from the University of Guelph. A botanist by day, he has been writing amateur reviews, poetry and prose for several years.