Again, I love Kurt Vonnegut! I had a smile on my face after reading "Slaughter House Five" and internally noted, "yes, this is why I'm reading all these novels!!"So imagine my delighted exuberance at opening my favorite obsession "Vanity Fair" and seeing that there was an on-line exclusive on a never released short story by Vonnegut!
"Kurt Vonnegut may have died in 2007, but his brutally witty fiction lives on. Read "Shout About It from the Housetops" a never before published story from his upcoming posthumous collection, Look at the Birdie, at vf.com/go/vonnegut."
Excerpted from Look at the Birdie: Unpublished Short Fiction, by Kurt Vonnegut, to be published October 20, 2009, by Delacorte, an imprint of Random House, Inc. Text © by the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Trust. Illustrations © 2009 by Kurt Vonnegut and Oragami Express.
I read it. I guess everybody in Vermont read it when they heard Hypocrites’ Junction was actually Crocker’s Falls.
I didn’t think it was such a raw book, the way raw books go these days. It was just the rawest book a woman ever wrote—and I expect that’s why it was so popular.
I met that woman once, that Elsie Strang Morgan, the one who wrote the book. I met her husband, the high-school teacher, too. I sold them some combination aluminum storm windows and screens one time. That was about two months after the book came out. I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t paid much attention to all the talk about it.
They lived in a huge, run-down old farmhouse five miles outside of Crocker’s Falls back then, just five miles away from all those people she gave the works to in the book. I don’t generally sell that far south, don’t know many people down that way. I was on my way home from a sales meeting in Boston, and I saw that big house with no storm windows, and I just had to stop in.
I didn’t have the least idea whose house it was.
I knocked on the door, and a young man in pajamas and a bathrobe answered. I don’t think he’d shaved in a week. I don’t think he’d been out of the pajamas and bathrobe for a week, either. They had a very lived-in look. His eyes were wild. He was the husband. He was Lance Magnum in the book. He was the great lover in the book, but he looked like one of the world’s outstanding haters when I met him.
“How do you do,” I said.
“How do you do?” he asked. He made it a very unpleasant question.
“I couldn’t help noticing you don’t have any storm windows on this beautiful old home,” I said.
“Why don’t you try again?” he said.
“Try what?” I said.
“Try not noticing we don’t have any storm windows on this beautiful old home,” he said.
“If you were to put up storm windows,” I said, “do you know who would pay for them?” I was going to answer the question myself. I was going to tell him that the money for the windows would come out of his fuel dealer’s pocket, since the windows would save so much fuel. But he didn’t give me a chance.
“Certainly I know who’d pay for ’em—my wife,” he said. “She’s the only person with any money around here. She’s the breadwinner.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know what your personal situation here happens to be—”
“You don’t?” he said. “Everybody else does. What’s the matter—can’t you read?” he said.
“I can read,” I told him.
“Then rush down to your nearest bookstore, plunk down your six dollars, and start reading about the greatest lover boy of modern times! Me!” he said, and he slammed the door.
My conclusion was that the man was crazy, and I was about to drive off when I heard what sounded like a scream from the back of the house. I thought maybe I’d interrupted him while he was murdering his wife, thought he’d gone back to it now.
I ran to where the screaming was coming from, and I saw that an old rusty pump was making all the noise.
But it might as well have been a woman screaming, because a woman was making the pump scream, and the woman looked like she was just about to scream, too. She had both hands on the pump handle, and she was sobbing, and she was putting her whole body into every stroke. Water was going into a bucket that was already full, splashing down over the sides, spreading out on the ground. I didn’t know it then, but she was Elsie Strang Morgan. Elsie Strang Morgan didn’t want water. What she was after was violent work and noise.
When she saw me she stopped. She brushed the hair off of her eyes. She was Celeste in the book, of course. She was the heroine in her own book. She was the woman who didn’t know what love was till she met Lance Magnum. When I saw her, she looked as though she’d forgotten what love was again.
To see the rest of this excerpt visit Vanity Fair on-line!