If you’re not a fan of fiction, then you haven’t read Vonnegut. He’s the only author who I feel complete confidence recommending. Don’t know where to start? It really doesn’t matter much. I could guide you to a certain extent—and I have, in my reviews of Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions. But Vonnegut stays true to his bizarre, dystopic science-fiction themes, his satirical voice, and his philosophical undertones. You know what you’re going to get. And it’s going to be remarkable.
Welcome to the Monkey House* is a collection of 25 short stories. Vonnegut says in the preface, “the contents of this book are samples of work I sold in order to finance the writing of the novels. Here one finds the fruits of Free Enterprise” (Vonnegut, xiv). I adore the novels and I’m thankful for the work that enabled them, but this collection is intelligent, witty, and entertaining in its own right. The short story format, which I’ve hailed in the past, is ideal for a man like Vonnegut who is overflowing with ideas. He’s able to house an eccentric character in a brief, brilliant world that explodes in its brevity rather than fizzling out in lengthy, convoluted plot. The beginnings and ends don’t need to be neat and tidy; he can throw an interesting character in your face, you accept the world as a given, and you enjoy the story for what it is.
Although each story in Welcome to the Monkey House is distinct, Vonnegut deals with similar themes. Like: the commoditization of pleasure, the ephemerality of youth, the inevitability of mortality, etc. He tinkers with the parameters of our current planet, changing the rules to explore the realities of life that haunt us the most.
For instance, some of his stories feature:
-A world where equality is paramount. Various handicaps are introduced to make everyone on equal footing (ex: to reduce someone’s intelligence).
-Required ethical birth control pills to combat overpopulation. They don’t take away the ability to reproduce; they take away all sexual pleasure to make the act unenticing.
-Prisoners of war subjected to a chess match for their lives. The pieces are human and taking a piece is taking a life.
-A computer that develops sentience.
His stories make you THINK. Vonnegut is one of the most self-aware authors I’ve ever read and his uncanny ability to challenge his experiences forces you to challenge your own. My only complaint about the collection is that it lists the year published but it doesn’t name the medium. A small price to pay for a work that is such a gift to my own meandering through existence! Welcome to the Monkey House receives 5 out of 5 camel humps.
*Vonnegut, Kurt. Welcome to the Monkey House. New York: Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, 1968. Print.