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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Basic Training by Kurt Vonnegut

Basic Training, now being offered as a Kindle Single, is an unpublished 20,000 word story by a young Kurt Vonnegut. Though the story is compelling and displays great ability, it is evident to this fan that the piece was written before the author had discovered his unique voice, the thing that separated him from the many other talented writers of his generation and made him a lasting American icon. Though it offers some entertainment value, Basic Training shows the strain of being written by a young author trying to get published in the leading magazines of his day and thus secure a more stable position for himself and his family. It feels a little too targeted and broadly appealing.

Haley Brandon is a sixteen-year-old piano prodigy sent to live at his distant uncle's farm after the tragic deaths of his adoptive parents. His uncle is an eccentric war hero committed to the value of hard labor who insists that his children refer to him as The General.

Basic Training follows Haley as he struggles in his new environment. Two of the General's three daughters are straining against his authority, and Haley finds himself caught in the middle of their acts of rebellion. He also winds up warily befriending the General's possibly lunatic farmhand.

Vonnegut stuffs Basic Training with loads of moving pieces, and capably shifts them into position for a satisfying resolution. If someone submitted this to your writing workshop you would think they were a major talent. But for Vonnegut, it just doesn't stack up to the revolutionary novels that came later. What could?

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