Day one of my possibly insane goal of reading nineteen books at a rate of one a day, and I didn’t even have a full day to complete the first one! Naturally, I grabbed the thinnest book in the stack.
God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian is one of the lesser-known publications of heavy-hitting author Kurt Vonnegut (more well-known for things like Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions). I say “publications,” because it turns out this is not really a novel or a novella at all, but a collection of radio broadcasts for WNYC based on a fictional set-up. The idea is intriguing, as is the result.
I’m not much of a Vonnegut fan. His stuff tends to be too gritty for me, and I don’t always track with his humor. My husband, on the other hand, has every one of his novels and listed him as his favorite writer when we first met. I bought him this book when we were newlyweds, and I was so happy to have found something by Vonnegut he was unaware of. (This is back in the days when books were largely sold at brick-and-mortar book stores and we didn’t even have to say, “brick-and-mortars.”)
Let me say this, too: although I have strong religious views, a book does not have to jive with my worldview for me to enjoy it and even learn from it. This book is a good example of that.
Self-proclaimed as a humanist collection by a die-hard humanist (pun intended), the fictional set-up is this: Vonnegut is going to meet regularly with infamous “Doctor Death” Dr. Jack Kevorkian to be killed, only to be retrieved again before gone too far. In the interim, Vonnegut will conduct interviews with characters hanging around near the pearly gates. Like I said, great set-up.
Each chapter–or broadcast–is what would now be labeled flash fiction, so very short, and is a brief description of his encounter with another person from the other side. Some of the people are famous, some infamous, some un-famous. Some have been dead a long time, and some for mere minutes. Although the meat of the writing is in these witty, interesting, and sometimes irreverent interviews, there is just as much fun in the interaction with Kevorkian, the traveling, and the situations with both heaven and Saint Peter. Plenty of weighty things are thrown into the melange, like politics and history, even genocide. Let’s not forget that this book is, surprisingly obliquely, about life after death, and still manages to be fun.
It’s funny. And it’s insightful. And it’s, well, just plain masterful. If anything, you wish that it would last longer. It does, as the back-piece promises, “defy categorization,” which feels both rebellious and refreshing. And I really did LOL.
On to the next book!
“My epitaph in any case? ‘Everything was beautiful. Nothing hurt.’ I will have gotten off so light, whatever the heck it was that was going on” (p11).
“What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed they were happy” (p12).
“What [modern, married people] are really saying to each other, though, without realizing it, is this: ‘You are not enough people!’ (p13).
“‘The presence of those cameras finally acknowledges,’ Clarence Darrow said to me, ‘that justice systems anywhere, anytime, have never cared whether justice was acieved or not'” (p36).
“‘There are two types of men in this womanly world: / Those who know they are weak, / Those who think they are strong” (p68).
“‘One last question,’ I begged. ‘To what do you attribute your incredible productivity?’ / Isaac Asimov replied with but a single word: ‘Escape.’ ANd then he appendd a famous statement by the similarly prolific French writer Jean-Paul Sartre: ‘Hell is other people'” (p78).