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Book Review: Welcome To The Monkey House

welcome to the monkey houseAs much as I love Kurt Vonnegut’s entire body of work, there are few of them that I love the way I love Welcome To The Monkey House. It’s a book of short stories by a man who generally published longer works of fiction, but wow–it’s really good. Mark Twain said once that if he had more time, he would write more short stories. Meaning–things can unfold gradually and themes can emerge at their own pace in long, rambling novels. That’s not how it is with short stories.

They require a level of craftsmanship to convey the author’s intentions that just isn’t found in as many novels, in this enormous librarian’s opinion. I think Vonnegut accomplishes that in his stories, and especially in Monkey House.

So, what I would like to do today is give you a brief introduction to my three favorite stories from the collection. When you’re done reading this, you’ll have a better idea if you’d like to try the book or not.

1. EPICAC summary

EPICAC is a computer. But not just any computer. It is a computer that is also the narrator’s best friend. The narrator has his eye on a cute mathematician that works nearby. She likes poetry but he can’t write it. When he explains this to his computer buddy, the machine obliges by writing a poem. He gives the poem to here, and this is the beginning of a lovely relationship.

This is where it gets really good. The more that the computer writes, the more obvious it becomes that it has fallen in love with her. I won’t tell you more than that. This short story by Kurt Vonnegut was recommended to me by a girl I was dating. She said “If you like this you’ll want to read everything by this author.” She was right.

2.Welcome To The Monkey House

Dystopian future: check. Overpopulated planet: check. Government that can come up with a sane solution: not really.

But they get points for cleverness. There are two options available to people who wish to do their part to keep the world’s population down:

1. You can choose to put an end to things in lovely little parlors where aides help escort you to the other side

2. You can take these weird government pills that take all of the pleasure out of physical intimacy. A very interesting idea. People can still get busy if they want to, but they don’t really want to after taking the pills, because they can’t feel anything.

Enter the great character Billy The Poet, a rebel who is out to remind the world that…certain things feel really, really good. That’s about as much of a Welcome to the Monkey House summary as I can give you, without spoiling things, but I will say that the story behind the story’s title is pretty awesome.

3. Harrison Bergeron

Dystopia, again. This time the nightmare future has concerned itself with achieving absolute equality among all of its citizens. They are actually required to wear various handicaps that nullify their talents and skills. For instance, a person with incredible mental abilities might be required to wear an alarm that goes off in their ear every time they start having brilliant ideas. Or a strong man would be given extra weights to wear so that he would not have an advantage in power, mobility, or speed.

Someone decides that they do not like this arrangement. This is Harrison. And now I want to go read it again.

Welcome To The Monkey House is one of the best books from one of the best authors. If you’ve read much Vonnegut and aren’t sure if he has anything else, please check out this complete Kurt Vonnegut bibliography I wrote up a couple of weeks ago.


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  • cinderkeys November 6, 2010, 12:30 pm

    Welcome to the Monkey House was my introduction to Vonnegut. I read a few of his longer books, but nothing touched this collection of stories.