Welcome to the Monkey House

Monday, April 21, 2014

Welcome to the Monkey House
by Kurt Vonnegut

I feel like a broken record when it comes to short stories, but every time I seem to have the same reaction. It’s incredibly rare to find one where every story in the collection is a gem and this is no exception to that rule. There are some great pieces including “The Lie” about a young boy’s application to the prep school. “Unready to Wear” is another fascinating one, telling the story of a world where some people have figured out how to leave their bodies behind and exist without them. They put on new bodies like a suit of clothes. But for every good one there is a weaker one and the collection of 25 stories is a mixed bag.

“Who Am I This Time?” is my favorite of the bunch. Harry is a quiet man who works at a local hardware store. Once a year he comes to life in a local theatre production. He throws himself into every new role with wild abandon, but the moment the curtain falls on the final night he return to his chronically shy personality. Helen is new to town and finds herself cast opposite Harry in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She falls in love, but she’s fallen in love with the character Harry is playing, not Harry himself.

The main stories that I think will stay with me are not Vonnegut’s usual fare. For a man so well-known for his sarcasm the book contains some surprisingly sweet pieces. His cynical wit seeps in, but it's tempered with a warm nostalgia. Many of the stories were written while he was a young author trying to make ends meet. His talent is there but he was writing for a wider audience. A great example of this is one Vonnegut originally titles "Hell to Get Along With," when it was printed in the Ladies Home Journal (yes a Vonnegut article!) it was renamed, "Long Walk to Forever." Another great one is "Adam," which introduces readers to two Holocaust survivors marveling at the miracle of childbirth.

BOTTOM LINE: Some of these stories, particularly the ones I mentioned, are absolute 5 star pieces for me, but overall the book is hit or miss. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to try Vonnegut to see if they might like his style.

p.s. Last month I got to see a play based on three of the stories from this collection. It was called "Who am I This Time?" and it was excellent! 


Jillian said...

I think generally Vonnegut can be a hit or miss. His voice is so distinct, that you really have to like his style to get into his stories. I am thinking of adding this to my pile for the coming readathon!

Anonymous said...

I've never read Vonnegut, so this should be a perfect introduction. So fun that you got to see a play of some of the stories! Plays and movies can be such a great way to connect to books!
On that note, if you ever get the chance to see the musical A Year With Frog and Toad, do it! What a brilliant adaptation of Arnold Lobel's beloved stories!

Jeanne said...

Before my kids got there, the local high school did a play entitled Welcome to the Monkey House, based on some of the stories from this volume. I heard it was a pretty good show, but didn't see it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - Short stories are perfect for readathons! Make sure you read the story "Who Am I This Time?" if you do get a copy.

abibliophilesstyle - I've seen that one! It's really a sweet show!

Jeanne - It actually translates well to the stage. I've seen two plays based on stories from this collection and both worked well.

Anonymous said...

Oh cool! We have a good Summer theater program at the local community college. My husband and I have seen lots of plays there, but that was my favorite! It was also the first play we ever took my son to - he was 3 at the time.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite of the Vonnegut story collections. Certainly something for everyone in these 25 stories (and also likely something NOT for everyone, as you say). "The Lie" is one of my favorites too (My post about it from a few years ago is by far my most-viewed post ever on my blog - I have no idea why, unless it's part of a lot of curriculums and students are googling it to 'cheat on their homework'), but my very favorite is "Deer in the Works" since I empathize being a "corporate slave" myself (for now)... :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

abibliophilesstyle - What a fun one to take a youngster to!

bibliophilica - It really is a wonderful one! That's one thing I love about short story collections. With the good ones, you can find something for everyone.