Vonnegut. I’m going to associate him with authors like Thompson and Palahniuk. Not a long read, first person, introspective, a little off-the-wall, spontaneous, curious, amusing. One of those books that you put down, realize the brilliancy of it, wonder why it wasn’t longer, maybe even shorter, and forcing you to wonder what it is that you just absorbed. You know you just learned something, yet you can’t quite be sure of it. Even the blurb on the back cover doesn’t quite confirm that lesson. For Deadeye Dick, the publisher explains it as the loss of innocence and containing a “host of horros.” I’ll try to rehash the synopsis in a sentence or three.
Deadeye Dick is a story of a man destined to achieve nothing but an outsider’s view of strange events. A depiction of “the Midwest” (Ohio), how life revolves around the strange lives of mediocre people and the events that make every life story on Earth unique. It is a story of a feckless man who trudges on through life as the events in his life slowly transform him from a devil-may-care simpleton into an experienced devil-may-care simpleton.
A series of random events, some of them affecting him personally, some that don’t directly happen to him, fill the entirety of the book. Not an exciting climax, if any at all. And somehow, his style of writing lets you put down the book feeling fulfilled, like finishing an Austen or a Montecristo. So many try to imitate that style where plot is minimal and the story revolves around how the main character handles his/her life. And so many fall flat, where one reads it and loses all interest after the second chapter. It’s not so much a matter of character depth than it is about the character’s flaws and the secondary characters that surround and interact with the main character. I think Vonnegut achieved luring the reader in by interlacing a pre-WWII Hitler friendship and talking about his farcical father. But as far as this type of story goes, so often, it’s about the desparity of living without sounding like a depressed adolescent who just hates everything and everyone. It’s about the comedy of life and the MC’s unconventional approach to hardship and unfortunate events and circumstances. And all this cannot be melodramatic in the least, or else the story/novella fails.
How to achieve this magic formula? I couldn’t quite tell you other than to read books like this. I believe the success and legacy of this style of writing is achieved through a strong voice. Not necessarily unique, but strong. Couple that with an amusing semi-sympathetic MC plagued by amusing (or masochistic, deranged, abusive, psychologically unstable, etc.) secondary characters that the MC has to deal with. Just read some Thompson, Palahniuk, and more Vonnegut. You’ll start to see the pattern.
Deadeye Dick gets 4 out of 5 stars from me.
Pros: Phenomenal voice and style. Unconventional and an easy read. Not a waste of time, you could probably read it in a day or two.
Cons: The whole story revolves around the life and events of his parents in the first half, then about his brother in the last third or so. First person view of past events, no real forward motion.