Monday, December 03, 2007

Vonnegut, Styron, or Mailer

You may have seen an AP story on Sunday about the year's literary losses---Kurt Vonnegut, William Styron (who actually died in late '06), and Norman Mailer. I have a personal favorite among the three. But what about you? Which of those authors, if any, had an impact on you? What was the nature of that impact? Let me know, and then I'll let you know my choice.


jamesdschuler said...

Ms. Ford.....I welcome your interesting question. The three aforementioned authors have each had an influence in my life - in varying degrees, and at different times. Of all three, however, our dear old friend from Indianapolis breaks away from the pack.

It was the spring of 1984. I was a sophomore at SMU in Dallas Texas, double-majoring in english and economics. I was sitting on the steps of Dallas Hall one beautiful, sunny Saturday morning - taking a break from an impromtu game of Frisbee into which I'd been roped. Suddenly, a beautiful, voluptuous, ravishing blonde girl came out of the building and walked by and nodded. She stopped, turned around, and walked right up to me and sat down. She stuck out her hand and said "Hi, I'm Michelle."

I mumbled something and introduced myself, taking her hand. She had noticed I was reading Pound, and was surprised. SMU boys don't sit around outside on Saturday afternoon in the spring and read The Cantos for fun.

We began to chat....I had to confess to her that I had never seen her before on campus (SMU being small, everyone pretty much knows everyone else). She explained that she had just transferred that semester from Cal-Berkeley, where her father was a prof in psychiatry. We just had not bumped into one another yet.

Our discussion quickly went all over the literary map....we discussed Kerouac and Snyder and Ginsberg and Hemingway and Waugh and Wolfe and Fitzgerald. Then, she mentioned Vonnegut. I told her of course, I'd heard of Slaughter-house Five, but I'd never read it.

She was taken aback.....and immediately said "Come with me." I gathered up my stuff and waved to my chums still playing Frisbee in the Quad and followed this goddess back to her dorm room.

We got there, and it was like a revelation. She had me sit down and just start in on any page in Dead-eye Dick, then Breakfast of Champions, then Jail-bird. I couldn't believe the brilliance of the words on the pages, and how they spoke just what I thought. I did not believe anyone saw things the way I did. Vonnegut did, and put it out for the world to see.

She loaded me up with a stack of Vonnegut, and sent me on my way.

It sounds trite and schtick and hokey, but reading Vonnegut literally changed my life.

By the end of the semester I had decided to take a year off school and travel and write and dig whatever I experienced.

I ended up living in Singapore, then in London.

I never did go back to SMU...I finished my undergrad degree elsewhere, then went on to Baltimore for graduate school.

Vonnegut's "saneness", his unfailing ability to see through the absurdity and capriciousness of modern life in this supposedly "meritocratic" commercial republic of ours, changed and refined and made decent every thought, every goal, every hope I've had for the past quarter century.

Some people wear bracelets that ask "what would jesus do?". My would read "what would ol' Kilgore Trout do?"


Marcia Ford said...

James, thanks so much for your thoughtful response. Vonnegut impacted your life more than all three authors impacted mine---that's some testimony to the power of the written word. Styron was my choice. His "Darkness Visible" gave me permission to own up to my as-yet undiagnosed chronic depression and helped me understand what I was going through. Only then was I able to get the professional help I needed.