NEW YORK – Death doesn't always stop great writers from publishing their new material. Not even Kurt Vonnegut. So it goes.
Less than five years after the passing of the legendary U.S. novelist – best known for Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, “Harrison Bergeron” and other satirical masterpieces – New York-based e-publisher RosettaBooks has released a 22,000-word novella, Basic Training, which it believes Vonnegut wrote in the late 1940s.
RosettaBooks released Basic Training yesterday. Available exclusively for Kindle, the novella is available from Amazon.com for $1.99 (U.S.).
Written when the twenty-something Vonnegut was working for General Electric while struggling to sell short stories to magazines, Basic Training tells the story of a teenage pianist, Haley Brandon, who journeys from New York City to live on the farm of his adopted uncle, a retired military general who's more than a little crazy and determined to work the musical talent out of the young man.
While Basic Training doesn't have the science-fiction elements or self-referential qualities of Vonnegut's later work, his satirical and anti-authority bent is unmistakable even at this early stage.
According to the New York Times, a press statement from RosettaBooks described the novella as rife with the author's “trademark grand themes: the lunacy of kings, the improbability of existence, the yearling hero’s struggle with duty and love and the meaning of heroism.” RosettaBooks also notes the surprise influence of J.D. Salinger – another recently-deceased, iconic American novelist who is rumoured to have left a treasure trove of unpublished work.
The young Vonnegut pitched the novella under the pseudonym of Mark Harvey, according to the publisher's website. The Saturday Evening Post, one of the top publishers of short fiction at the time, turned it down, and it remained among Vonnegut's private unpublished works in his estate until his literary executor allowed RosettaBooks to have access to it, among hundreds of other works.
Early reader reviews of Basic Training have been positive. Los Angeles horror/mystery writer Eve Paludan called it “a beautiful piece of fiction” and “a new classic coming-of-age short story” in her Amazon review.
Kurt Vonnegut died in April 2007, at the age of 84. Both Time and The Modern Library selected his anti-war classic Slaughterhouse-Five as one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century.