Friday, September 18, 2015

Love as Always, Kurt

Loree Rackstraw and her fellow students in the Iowa Writers' Workshop were not exactly thrilled when they learned in September 1965 that a new instructor by the name of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been hired to replace novelist Verlin Cassill, the instructor they were all expecting.  No one, including Rackstraw, had ever heard of Vonnegut, much less knew anything at all about any writing accomplishments and skills he might have.  Little did Rackstraw imagine that she and Vonnegut were about to begin a personal relationship that would last for the rest of Vonnegut's life.

Their relationship, which Rackstraw several times hints was sometimes an intimate one, was a bit bizarre at times.  As she puts it, the "friendship was sustained mostly by the U.S. Postal Service" and it was common for the pair to go more than a year at a time without actually setting eyes on each other.  But the relationship was most certainly a long and enduring one because it lasted for more than fifty years.  During that half century, Vonnegut shared his most intimate thoughts and feelings with Rackstraw and always made sure that she saw early drafts of his latest work.  He also shared much of his artwork with her and continued to encourage her with her own writing.

Love as Always, Kurt is very much Loree Rackstraw's memoir.  And, although she structures the memoir around the chronological progress of Vonnegut's literary career, this is not a Kurt Vonnegut biography that can be depended upon for completeness or objectivity.  That Rackstraw still deeply cares about Vonnegut is obvious on every page, and those readers looking for a more traditional biographical handling of the author are likely to be disappointed.  Those hoping for a more intimate and emotional glimpse of what Kurt Vonnegut, the man, was like, are going to be pleased.

The Kurt Vonnegut portrayed by Rackstraw was a naive man, one whose friends feared was easily exploited by those seeking to take advantage of his good nature.  He was a man who believed that we are put on this earth "to fart around," and he said that he was having a "perfectly wonderful time" doing just that.  Love as Always, Kurt also focuses on Vonnegut's strong anti-war sentiments and other far left political views.  That manifestation of Kurt Vonnegut cut his political opposites no slack, and he and Rackstraw (and the rest of their crowd) often took great glee in viciously ridiculing anyone who disagreed with them. 

Kurt Vonnegut and Loree Rackstraw
My most vivid takeaway from the memoir is the impression that Vonnegut was terribly insecure about his own writing.  Writing did not come easy for him, and he was often at odds with his publisher about delivering promised projects by the contracted deadlines.  I was also struck by the man's intolerance of those who did not politically line up with his own views.  Rackstraw makes it clear that she, Vonnegut, and their friends much preferred ridicule and laughter to the consideration of opposing viewpoints.

If you read Love as Always, Kurt just remember that Loree Rackstraw is very much Kurt Vonnegut's cheerleader.  To her credit, she does not pretend otherwise.  But even as one-sided as the memoir is, it deserves a look from Kurt Vonnegut fans because of the little details and insights into his personal world that Rackstraw reveals.

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  1. This sounds very interesting. I am not a huge Vonnegut fan, but I have read a couple of his books thanks to the suggestion of a person I knew. I liked the books I read, but they were bizarre. Bizarre books always make me curious about the author so I may very well read this book at some point in time. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

    1. When it comes to Vonnegut, I'm pretty much like you...can take him or leave him. But I'm always curious about what makes a popular (or famous) author tick, so I usually can't resist books like this one. It gives an fairly intimate look at Vonnegut's private life and the way he thought, but it is not much of a critique on his writing...way to biased for that.