Look at the Birdie is a new, posthumously published collection of short stories by late, great author Kurt Vonnegut. I always feel it’s a little disrespectful for works to be published without the permission of their authors after their deaths, but I couldn’t resist reading new material from my favorite author of all time. And if ever a work called for an unauthorized release, it’s this one.
Kurt Vonnegut’s genius continues to astound me. His seem to be the only books whose endings I can never even partially predict. I’m very selective with the short stories I read since it seems far too often that they badly written, failed novels. A truly good short story requires an even greater deal of creativity, intelligence, forethought, and restraint than the most classic novels. Yet Vonnegut makes it all seem so easy.
Look at the Birdie begins with the brilliant and unusual “Confido.” A poor but happy couple find themselves cynically questioning their life together thanks to the attractive, insidious invention that gives the story its title. Confido claims to be the cure for loneliness, but instead it intensifies and vocalizes a person’s deepest, darkest thoughts.
From there we’re introduced to a lonely worker in “Fubar” whose entire outlook on life is changed by a new co-worker, and an author whose previously happy marriage has been thrown into chaos by the bitter success of her novel in “Shout About it from the Housetops.”
Many of the stories take simple, ordinary people and throw them into extraordinary, sometimes Kafkaesque circumstances – such as the innocent couple victimized by one small town’s unjust justice system in “Ed Luby’s Key Club.”
One of the more interesting stories in the book is “The Petrified Ants,” which follows two Russian myrmecologists as they discover the remains of an ancient, highly intelligent and civilized race of ants that read books and lived in houses. What the two scientists discover about the decline and fall of these great ant predecessors has chilling similarities and appalling implications for humanity.
My personal favorite story in the collection is “The Nice Little People,” a fantastical tale of a man who unwittingly brings a strange and dangerous object into his home. It is the most innovative, impressive, twisted story I’ve ever read, but I think it’s more effective if you don’t know anything about it before reading it. So I’ll say nothing more.