Love As Always, Kurt: Vonnegut As I Knew Him, by Loree Rackstraw

by Bufkinite@evpl on Monday, September 7 2009, 1:21am. Viewed 1,336 times.

Jacket art - Love As Always, KurtIn September of 1965 Lorree Rackstraw was a graduate student in her second year at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, apprehensive about her new teacher, a relatively unknown writer named Kurt Vonnegut.  Vonnegut had published just three books: The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, and Cat's Cradle.  He'd also finished writing God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater the previous spring, and was struggling to get onto paper what he referred to as his "Dresden Book."

Love As Always, Kurt, recounts the friendship that began that summer, and lasted over 40 years, until Kurt Vonnegut died in April of 2007. To call it a friendship cheapens the care that this memoir makes clear they shared with one another.  Rackstraw is now Professor Emeritus and the University of Northern Iowa & former editor of The North American Review.

This memoir of Rackstraw's forty-year relationship with Kurt Vonnegut is a very personal and deep look into both the human and the writer behind the name Kurt Vonnegut.  We see clearly how, as a writer, he labors in draft after draft of everything he wrote from Slaughterhouse Five to Man Without a Country, and down to the speeches he gave at countless colleges, universities, graduations, and memorial services.  We see, just as clearly, how he champions common humanity, and simultaneously enjoys the company of the famous and relatively well-to-do.  We see how, despite periods of darkness and cynicism, this relationship buoyed Vonnegut, and provided Rackstraw with an escape from the pressures of her academic career as well.

We see, most plainly, a deep and abiding friendship that transcends all normal definitions.  Was it love?  Definitely.  What it friendship?  In the most useful meaning of the word, yes.  But it was more: it was a collegial relationship - Vonnegut sent her page proofs of everything from Slaughterhouse Five forward; it was an intimate relationship, certainly: "Kurt and I toured the town of Key West, hand in hand like kids, and took photographs of each other beside somebody else's catch of a huge fish... Later, we danced barefoot under moonlight on that beach, to ragtime music from the piano bar;" and ultimately, it was a lifelong relationship, that saw a parting of the ways only in the death of one.

Being a long-time Vonnegut fan, I loved this book.  It represents a first-hand account of four decades of his life by someone who he consistently loved, and who loved him in return.  A tender portrait.

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