Mother Night (Kurt Vonnegut series) [Kindle Edition]
Best known now by the Nick Nolte 1996 film of the same title, MOTHER NIGHT (1961) is a dazzling narrative of false or shifting identity. The odyssey of its protagonist, Howard Campbell, Jr. is a paradigm of conflicting loyalties, ambiguous commitment and personal compromise. Campbell is an American emigre in Germany at the time of Hitler’s ascension; he is married to a German, his relations with the Nazi regime are excellent and he agrees to spy for them and to become a broadcaster serving the regime but then, increasingly disaffected, becomes a double, then perhaps a triple-agent sending coded messages to the Allies. After the War he is tried for war crimes but is exonerated. The novel is written in the form of a memoir as the exiled Campbell, indifferent to outcome, plots his suicide. The novel is a moral tale without a moral or, perhaps, according to Vonnegut, a tale with several morals. Vonnegut, a science fiction writer in early career, knew the science fiction community well and it is more or less accepted that the conflicted and indecipherable Howard Campbell is modeled upon John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971), the great editor of Astounding and Analog whose decades long rightward drift led him to endorse George Wallace in 1968.
Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is perhaps the most beloved American writer of the 20th century. His audience has built steadily since his first pieces in the 1950’s. Vonnegut’s 1968 novel, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE has become a canonic war novel – with Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22 the truest and darkest of all to have come from World War II. Vonnegut began as a science fiction writer and his early novels PLAYER PIANO and THE SIRENS OF TITAN were so categorized even as they appealed to a young audience far beyond science fiction readers. In the 1960’s he became the writer most identified with the Baby Boomer generation. Like the novels of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut’s large body of work is now understood as unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work synergistic. The more of Kurt Vonnegut’s work you read, the more the work resonates and the more you wish to read. Vonnegut’s reputation – like Twain’s – will grow steadily through the decades to come as his work grows in relevance, truthfulness and searing insight.