Publishers Weekly
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Bookending Vonnegut's career, the two semi-autobiographical stories contained in this unpolished posthumous collection are in print for the first time here. "Basic Training" is the author's earnest first novella, written a few years before Player Piano and never published. In it, an orphaned, wet-behind-the-ears city kid is dispatched to a farm to live with a trio of opinionated female cousins under the watchful eye and iron fist of his uncle, whom he calls "the General." A series of outlandish mishaps and numerous missteps, including an unrequited love and a madcap hitchhiking adventure with a delusional and murderous farmhand, invoke a slightly unhinged Mark Twain. "If God Were Alive Today," unfinished upon the author's death in 2007, raises Vonnegut's signature existential critique of America's warped values and corrupt political climate to a fevered pitch via the uncensored standup routine of his twice-institutionalized protagonist, comedian Gil Berman. Berman's rapid-fire potshots-from the "war on drugs" to global warming ("The farts of our internal combustion engines have wrecked the atmosphere as a protective shield, and as anything a mother would want her child to breathe")-couched in Vonnegut's page-long rants are sometimes tiresome but will make readers wonder what a completed (and edited) novel might've amounted to. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.