Or at least I wish I was. Over the past year, I’ve been drawing a series of parallels between myself and Vonnegut’s fictional alter ego (Or Theodore Sturgeon’s.) In so many ways I respect this man. Embittered, and three times divorced, when we’re introduced to Kilgore Trout in Slaughterhouse Five, his works serve as filler for girlie magazines. By 1974, he has written one hundred seventeen novels and two thousand short stories. Many of which use thinly veiled science fiction worlds for the sake of social and political commentary. Of Trout’s works, Vonnegut says the ideas and plots driving these pieces are fantastic (The premises of which significantly alter the lives of his very meager readership) but the prose isn’t worth a damn. He’s cynical and aging, lives in a shitty apartment where his only belongings amount to an obnoxious parakeet and a prom tuxedo. Again, there’s something romantic in all this.
The thing is, this summer I’ve been plugging away on a laptop several hours a day. I’m not saying any of the material I’ve produced is worth a damn, but somehow after working for four months I woke up with 200 + pages of semi-finished material, a stack that my thesis adviser is still sifting through (God bless his soul.) I respect Trout because his focus is with creation. He produces work on his own terms with no expectation of fame or of being adopted into a broader literary community.
Then there are the conceits of his works. We are never actually given his works verbatim, but rather Vonnegut’s interpretation of the material. A Plague on Wheels, a story that is revealed shortly after Trout gives his Nobel Prize speech, is about life on a dying planet named Lingo-Three, where the people are actually automobiles with wheels. Visiting space travelers (homosexual, inch-high people from the planet Zeltoldimar) discover that the automobile-people have destroyed the resources on Lingo-Three. The space travelers cannot save the automobile-people, since their eggs are too heavy to bring back to Zeltoldimar; their spokesman, Kago, says, “You will be gone, but not forgotten.” The space travelers leave Lingo-Three and later arrive on Earth. They tell the Earthlings about the automobiles that are dying out on Lingo-Three, and unknowingly bring about the destruction of the Earthlings because, “human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague.” Using this idea, the earthlings create beings like those on Lingo-Three that pollute and ravage the resources of the world.
Trout’s novel, Now it Can be Told , which causes the final break in Dwayne Hoover’s psyche in “Breakfast of Champions” is about the only conscious being in the universe who is surrounded by programed robots to test his free will.
These are the moments in which I feel most like Kilgore Trout. When my Mom calls me up to ask what the story I’m working on is about. When I give a summary of a work of mine to friends at the bar, who respond with wide, blinking eyes and half smiles. Here are the concepts of some of my last stories, and the reason why when people ask me what I’m working on I’ll just simply say it’s a story about a love triangle:
Waltzing the Apocalypse- The owner of a sex shop buries a used condom in the Indian burial ground behind his store.
The Unanswerables- A widowed man’s son discovers a see-and-say toy that opens a doorway to the other side.
Tale for a Lonely Universe- A group of children watch a BBC sign language program and form a story circle at the end of the world.
Marionettes- A love story that takes place between a woman who has just murdered her husband and a self-aware GPS device.
The Places We Keep Our Dead- A father buries a radio transmitter in his recently buried daughter’s coffin. Vampires are involved, along with God as a failed thespian who is growing really damn bored with us.
Those are just a couple examples of the love-triangle’s I’ve been writing these past couple years. I think there’s a Kilgore Trout in every one us. What are some Trout-like stories/works you’ve been writing recently?