Later this month Delacorte Press is publishing a brand new collection of unpublished short stories by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Look at the Birdie collects 14 short stories that were written during Vonnegut's early days and have been dusted off since his tragic and untimely death in 2006. (You can read what I've had to say about Vonnegut on the Huffington Post before here and here.)
Usually, I'm wary of posthumous collections of an author's early work, it seems like they'd just be scraping the bottom of the barrel, but this collection is really a work of art and fits in perfectly with the two other collections of Vonnegut shorts, Welcome to the Monkey House and Bagombo Snuff Box. In fact, I read the first collection to come out after Vonnegut's death, Armageddon in Retrospect, and it felt fairly complete. After reading Look At the Birdie, I feel like it may have been slopped together in fairly short order. This is a much more complete and whole body of pieces.
As with any collection of Vonnegut short stories, it contains a delightful series of tales that run across genres from sentimental to science fiction; there's a story about the High School Bandleader George Helmholtz, stories set in the Ilium works, and tales of an America that exists only in the Saturday Evening Post. The shorts in this collection are fresh and new, but at once familiar. Reading a Vonnegut book has always been for me like visiting an old friend and this collection is no exception.
There are a number of outstanding yarns in this assortment, but I'd like to point out specifically a few that shine. Obviously, I don't want to say too much about them because the point of a short story is to transport you somewhere in a short amount of time and make you think, and me distilling each one I want you to pay attention to would defeat the purpose. Having said that, there are a few that stand out fresh in my mind after my reading.
The first is "Hello, Red" (which you can actually download for your Kindle right now). This is a very sad, sweet tale of a man who comes back to town after an extended absence and he has a secret, coming back to claim something very special. "Hall of Mirrors" is the mind-bending tale of two police detectives trying to apprehend a master hypnotist and was an incredibly fun read. The comedic-science fiction tale "The Nice Little People" made me laugh out loud repeatedly and tells the story of a man who discovers a spaceship full of tiny people. "The Good Explainer", the final piece in this collection, has one of the most bittersweet endings of a Vonnegut story and hit me right where it counts.
The biggest problem is that each of the 14 stories in this collection are all classic Vonnegut, handcrafted to perfection by a master storyteller, and deserve your full attention.
The book hits shelves October 20, 2009. You can preorder it on Amazon by clicking this link. Trust that it will be money well spent.