Cover image for Look at the birdie : unpublished short fiction
Look at the birdie : unpublished short fiction
Vonnegut, Kurt.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, [2009]

Physical Description:
xiv, 251 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
A volume of fourteen early and previously unpublished short works offers insight into the social satirist's developing literary style and includes pieces that explore such themes as innocence, ironic twists of fate, and morality.
Letter from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., to Walter J. Miller, 1951 -- Confido -- FUBAR -- Shout about it from the housetops -- Ed Luby's key club -- A song for Selma -- Hall of mirrors -- The nice little people -- Hello, Red -- Little drops of water -- The petrified ants -- The honor of a newsboy -- Look at the birdie -- King and queen of the universe -- The good explainer.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



Look at the Birdie is a collection of fourteen previously unpublished short stories from one of the most original writers in all of American fiction. In this series of perfectly rendered vignettes, written just as he was starting to find his comic voice, Kurt Vonnegut paints a warm, wise, and funny portrait of life in post World War II America - a world where squabbling couples, high school geniuses, misfit office workers, and small-town lotharios struggle to adapt to changing technology, moral ambiguity, and unprecedented affluence. Here are tales both cautionary and hopeful, each brimming with Vonnegut's trademark humor and profound humanism. A family learns the downside of confiding their deepest secrets into a magical invention. A man finds himself in a Kafkaesque world of trouble after he runs afoul of the shady underworld boss who calls the shots in an upstate New York town. A quack psychiatrist turned "murder counselor" concocts a novel new outlet for his paranoid patients. While these stories reflect the anxieties of the postwar era that Vonnegut was so adept at capturing--and provide insight into the development of his early style--collectively, they have a timeless quality that makes them just as relevant today as when they were written. It's impossible to imagine any of these pieces flowing from the pen of another writer; each in its own way is unmistakably, quintessentially Vonnegut. Featuring a Foreword by author and longtime Vonnegut confidant Sidney Offit and illustrated with Vonnegut's characteristically insouciant line drawings, Look at the Birdie is an unexpected gift for readers who thought his unique voice had been stilled forever - and serves as a terrific introduction to his short fiction for anyone who has yet to experience his genius.

Author Notes

The appeal of Kurt Vonnegut, especially to bright younger readers of the past few decades, may be attributed partly to the fact that he is one of the few writers who have successfully straddled the imaginary line between science-fiction/fantasy and "real literature." He was born in Indianapolis and attended Cornell University, but his college education was interrupted by World War II. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned in Dresden, he received a Purple Heart for what he calls a "ludicrously negligible wound." After the war he returned to Cornell and then earned his M.A. at the University of Chicago.He worked as a police reporter and in public relations before placing several short stories in the popular magazines and beginning his career as a novelist.

His first novel, Player Piano (1952), is a highly credible account of a future mechanistic society in which people count for little and machines for much. The Sirens of Titan (1959), is the story of a playboy whisked off to Mars and outer space in order to learn some humbling lessons about Earth's modest function in the total scheme of things. Mother Night (1962) satirizes the Nazi mentality in its narrative about an American writer who broadcasts propaganda in Germany during the war as an Allied agent. Cat's Cradle (1963) makes use of some of Vonnegut's experiences in General Electric laboratories in its story about the discovery of a special kind of ice that destroys the world. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) satirizes a benevolent foundation set up to foster the salvation of the world through love, an endeavor with, of course, disastrous results. Slaughterhouse-Five; or The Children's Crusade (1969) is the book that marked a turning point in Vonnegut's career. Based on his experiences in Dresden, it is the story of another Vonnegut surrogate named Billy Pilgrim who travels back and forth in time and becomes a kind of modern-day Everyman. The novel was something of a cult book during the Vietnam era for its antiwar sentiments. Breakfast of Champions (1973), the story of a Pontiac dealer who goes crazy after reading a science fiction novel by "Kilgore Trout," received generally unfavorable reviews but was a commercial success. Slapstick (1976), dedicated to the memory of Laurel and Hardy, is the somewhat wacky memoir of a 100-year-old ex-president who thinks he can solve society's problems by giving everyone a new middle name. In addition to his fiction, Vonnegut has published nonfiction on social problems and other topics, some of which is collected in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974).

He died from head injuries sustained in a fall on April 11, 2007.

(Bowker Author Biography) Kurt Vonnegut is among the few grandmasters of 20th century American letters. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922. Vonnegut lives in New York City.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Before his novels made him famous, Vonnegut wrote stories for the slicks large-format, general-interest magazines, such as Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and Woman's Home Companion. These 14 examples of that portion of his output, however, only now see the light of print. All are in the sort of pop-Hemingway prose Vonnegut continued to use, tinged with ad-speak, in the novels and are unpleasant only in their sometimes willful-seeming happy endings. The two-part Ed Luby's Key Club, about a hardworking couple that, out to celebrate a wedding anniversary, stumbles into a hell of urban corruption, is Brechtianly impressive until its nicey-nice, unironic resolution. The satirical sf tales Confido, The Nice Little People, and The Petrified Ants forecast the novels more obviously and share the twisted O. Henry procedures that flowered in popular fiction and in the typical Twilight Zone episode. There is satire, too, in other, more mainstream stories aimed at targets including communism, class privilege, IQ-worship, and abortion, which is addressed in quasi-feminist fashion. Everything here entertains, perhaps surprisingly.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2009 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This collection of unpublished fiction sheds light on Vonnegut's early writing, but fails to measure up to the rest of his formidable oeuvre. The stories are brief, vividly imagined and sometimes carry a science-fictional twist with a moral (of sorts), not unlike "Harrison Bergeron." In "Confido," for instance, an inventor manufactures a device that whispers to its users everything they want to hear, with special emphasis on their worst desires and suspicions, while the title story describes an interaction at a bar between a disgruntled man and a self-styled "murder counselor" who has come up with an ingenious method for killing people. Sidney Offit, Vonnegut's longtime friend, notes in an introduction that it's possible these stories went unpublished because they didn't satisfy the author. To be sure, they lack the polish and humor of the author's best-known work. Nevertheless, for devotees, they provide an instructive view of Vonnegut's talent in the making. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When a work remains unpublished until after a writer's death, it could arguably be because it's not up to the author's usual standards. That is certainly the case with this collection of 14 stories, which literary icon Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five) wrote early in his career. However, the stories are nonetheless valuable for the insights they offer into Vonnegut's development as a writer, as they employ themes and stylistic techniques that would later become his trademarks. All Vonnegut enthusiasts will want this title, especially appealing in audio format owing to the top-notch performances by narrators including Barbara Rosenblat and Norman -Dietz. Some libraries may want more than one copy. ["Important for fans, but first-time readers should start with the better-known titles," read the review of the Delacorte hc, LJ 9/1/09.-Ed.]-R. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



CONFIDO The Summer had died peacefully in its sleep, and Autumn, as soft-spoken executrix, was locking life up safely until Spring came to claim it. At one with this sad, sweet allegory outside the kitchen window of her small home was Ellen Bowers, who, early in the morning, was preparing Tuesday breakfast for her husband, Henry. Henry was gasping and dancing and slapping himself in a cold shower on the other side of a thin wall. Ellen was a fair and tiny woman, in her early thirties, plainly mercurial and bright, though dressed in a dowdy housecoat. In almost any event she would have loved life, but she loved it now with an overwhelming emotion that was like the throbbing amen of a church organ, for she could tell herself this morning that her husband, in addition to being good, would soon be rich and famous. She hadn't expected it, had seldom dreamed of it, had been content with inexpensive possessions and small adventures of the spirit, like thinking about autumn, that cost nothing at all. Henry was not a moneymaker. That had been the understanding. He was an easily satisfied tinker, a maker and mender who had a touch close to magic with materials and machines. But his miracles had all been small ones as he went about his job as a laboratory assistant at the Accousti-gem Corporation, a manufacturer of hearing aids. Henry was valued by his employers, but the price they paid for him was not great. A high price, Ellen and Henry had agreed amiably, probably wasn't called for, since being paid at all for puttering was an honor and a luxury of sorts. And that was that. Or that had seemed to be that, Ellen reflected, for on the kitchen table lay a small tin box, a wire, and an earphone, like a hearing aid, a creation, in its own modern way, as marvelous as Niagara Falls or the Sphinx. Henry had made it in secret during his lunch hours, and had brought it home the night before. Just before bedtime, Ellen had been inspired to give the box a name, an appealing combination of confidant and household pet--Confido. What is it every person really wants, more than food almost?" Henry had asked coyly, showing her Confido for the first time. He was a tall, rustic man, ordinarily as shy as a woods creature. But something had changed him, made him fiery and loud. "What is it?" "Happiness, Henry?" "Happiness, certainly! But what's the key to happiness?" "Religion? Security, Henry? Health, dear?" "What is the longing you see in the eyes of strangers on the street, in eyes wherever you look?" "You tell me, Henry. I give up," Ellen had said helplessly. "Somebody to talk to! Somebody who really understands! That's what." He'd waved Confido over his head. "And this is it!" Now, on the morning after, Ellen turned away from the window and gingerly slipped Confido's earphone into her ear. She pinned the flat metal box inside her blouse and concealed the wire in her hair. A very soft drumming and shushing, with an overtone like a mosquito's hum, filled her ear. She cleared her throat self-consciously, though she wasn't going to speak aloud, and thought deliberately, "What a nice surprise you are, Confido." "Nobody deserves a good break any more than you do, Ellen," whispered Confido in her ear. The voice was tinny and high, like a child's voice through a comb with tissue paper stretched over it. "After all you've put up with, it's about time something halfway nice came your way." "Ohhhhhh," Ellen thought depreciatively, "I haven't been through so much. It's been quite pleasant and easy, really." "On the surface," said Confido. "But you've had to do without so much." "Oh, I suppose--" "Now, now," said Confido. "I understand you. This is just between us, anyway, and it's good to bring those things out in the open now and then. It's healthy. This is a lousy, cramped house, and it's left its mark on y Excerpted from Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.