Download books While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short FictionAuthor Kurt Vonnegut Jr. –

Foreword by Dave EggersSmart, whimsical, and often scathing, the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut influenced a generation of American writers—including Dave Eggers, author of this volume’s Foreword In these previously unpublished gems, Vonnegut’s originality infuses a unique landscape of factories, trailers, and bars—and characters who pit their dreams and fears against a cruel and sometimes comically indifferent worldHere are stories of men and machines, art and artifice, and how ideals of fortune, fame, and love take curious twists in ordinary lives An ambitious builder of roads, commanding an army of bulldozers, graders, and asphalt spreaders, fritters away his free time with miniature trains—until the women in his life crash his fantasy land Trapped in a stenography pool, a young dreamer receives a call from a robber on the run, who presents her with a strange proposition A crusty newspaperman is forced onto a committee to judge Christmas displays—a job that leads him to a suspiciously ostentatious excon and then a miracle A hog farmer’s widow receives cryptic, unsolicited letters from a man in Schenectady about “the indefinable sweet aches of the spirit” But what will she find when she goes to meet him in the flesh?These beautifully rendered works are a testament to Vonnegut’s unique blend of observation and imagination Like a present left behind by a departed loved one, While Mortals Sleep bestows upon us a shimmering Kurt Vonnegut gift: a poignant reflection of our world as it is and as it could be

10 thoughts on “While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction

  1. MJ Nicholls MJ Nicholls says:

    Lordy, why were these stories published? This is buried-in-the-bottom-drawer stuff, early examples of competence in the writing-for-slicks-and-glossies side of Kurt’s career. There were two sides to Kurt in the fifties and sixties: one was the knockout novelist who wrote prophetic, visionary, hilarious, moving and perfect books of permanence that no one noticed until Slaughterhouse V. Then there was the hack who wrote formulaic stories to keep his family in shoes, clothes and Drano. And I confess: I dislike the hack! I don’t rate his short stories at all. They strip the essence of his Vonnegutness completely, leaving a first-rate craftsman and moralist without the satirical bite and crazy exuberance of Cat’s Cradle et al. These unpublished bottom-drawer pieces have good twists and morals, and as ‘Guardian of the Person’ or ‘Out, Brief Candle’ show, can be moving . . . but slim pickings. The short form has come a long way since these pieces were composed. The boredom sets in quite early on here, and completion is a struggle. (I skipped the last four). Why did I bother? Why, I’m a Vonnegut completist-obsessive, of course. Duh.

  2. Chris Remo Chris Remo says:

    Since Kurt Vonnegut’s death, there have been three volumes of previously unpublished Vonnegut short fiction. I didn’t bother with them initially, because I don’t gravitate to short stories to begin with, and on top of that I figured the posthumously published leftovers probably weren’t the cream of the crop.

    But recently it struck me that we won’t be getting any more genuinely new Vonnegut material ever (not the first time that realization has come to me as if it were a new discovery), so when I saw a hardcover edition of While Mortals Sleep in my local bookstore, I picked it up.

    While Mortals Sleep is the third and latest of these attempts to scrounge any more material out of the Vonnegut name, so it is essentially the leftovers of the leftovers.

    As David Eggers explains in a foreword that is itself a worthwhile read, the material is drawn from early in Vonnegut’s career, before he came to real acclaim (though individual stories unfortunately aren’t individually dated). It is surprisingly blunt—nearly every piece wraps up with a neat lesson, often a reproach of unrestrained capitalistic greed, an exaltation of individualism, or a reminder of the value of compassion and companionship.

    Vonnegut never bothered to disguise his worldview. But while his great novels were always moral, they were rarely had a moral like these stories do. In that sense, reading through this collection was instructive. Before Vonnegut really became the Vonnegut we know, before he could weave his ideals into his structure-defying, often sci-fi-tinged and dystopian works, he hammered them out in these brief allegories. (Only one story, “Jenny,” about a feminine robot built into a refrigerator—yes—really shares the sci-fi-abusing tendencies of many of Vonnegut’s novels.)

    There’s plenty of his characteristic easy prose, the unfussy eloquence that defines Vonnegut’s style throughout his career. And this early work gives a wonderful perspective on what followed. Unfortunately, while several of the stories are great, the majority of them are essentially simple morality plays, and at times I found it difficult to feel any real sense of real edification. As Eggers points out, Vonnegut was really writing for the 1950s magazine editors he hoped would accept his submissions, so the tone is understandable, even if it can’t stand the test of time like his great works.

    The standout exception for me in that regard—the monumental, wonderful exception—is the final inclusion, “The Humbugs.” It tells the story of two working artists whose studios face each other across the street.

    One is an aging and commercially successful painter of lush but soulless pastoral landscapes, an impressive literary prediction of Thomas Kinkade; he receives no recognition from the critical community, and he holds a secret contempt for his own creative bankruptcy.

    The other is a young, dynamic abstractionist, whose paintings the public finds uncomfortable and alienating, who is on the constant brink of financial ruin despite critical adoration of his work’s emotional breadth; he harbors a deep insecurity about his inability to depict the world the way the human eye perceives it.

    A confrontation ensues between the two, making for one of the most wonderful portrayals of creative self-doubt and triumph I have encountered. It was a daring move to require readers to get through an entire book’s worth of material before reaching what is clearly the strongest piece, but what an ending.

    (Before publishing this post I did a quick Google search for “While Mortals Sleep” and discovered that Amazon has nonsensically categorized the book as “Science Fiction & Fantasy”—a label Vonnegut spent a lifetime trying to escape. The guy just can’t catch a break.)

  3. Sarah Booth Sarah Booth says:

    Vonnegut delivers

    A collection of short stories that make you think about humanity and it’s short comings and it’s strengths that often lie hidden. There are some wonderful tales in here and some comedy that was brilliant. The last story of the ignorant battling wives of two different types of artists was brilliant. Vonnegut can make you think and examine the human soul without leaving you completely disturbed like some writers. He offers you food for thought but not so rich you over do it, or so poor that it leaves you miserable. It sits with you and gives you just what you can handle.

  4. Kevin Kevin says:

    Eh. I think, as other reviews on this site have stated more eloquently than I can, that these stories were in the 'unpublished' pile for a reason. Make no mistake: each and every one is better than something I could write, but compared to Vonnegut when he's on fire ... well, they're lacking.

    I went to pick it up today to finish off the last few stories and found myself staring at the rest of my to-read pile and my hand went straight to the next book in line. I could kid myself and say that I'll blow through the last few pages before I return it to the library but honestly it'd be like forcing myself to eat the last few bites of a mediocre free meal. I don't need to finish the whole thing to know what it tasted like.

  5. Dani Dani says:

    I just loved these stories by Vonnegut. I feel like he‘s talking to me - Hey, this is sad and crazy and even pathetic, but it‘s life and there‘s nothing much to do about it - so don‘t take it so seriously and smile for a moment! Hope lives where humour can be so bright...

  6. Sorin Hadârcă Sorin Hadârcă says:

    Good enough for a debutante. Although the stories are not dated, that's the feeling. Like watching a good old movie - too many clichés, reality being edited out of the picture for the sake of a twisted ending.

  7. Anne Anne says:

    I could continue reading Vonnegut's unpublished works forever and I wish I could. There are only a few clunkers in this volume (The Epizootic, Guardian of the Person, While Mortals Sleep)- primarily because they end too abruptly.

    Jenny is a treasure of a story. It is a heartbreaking story of a lonely appliance salesman and his talking, dancing refrigerator.

    Hundred Dollar Kisses recounts the justifiable reason a man would beat his officemate with a telephone - the part you talk and listen in. Vonnegut noticed long ago the things that trouble us probably even more so today: Everybody pays attention to pictures of things. Nobody pays attention to things themselves. I think of that every time I see a proud parent videotaping their kid with an iPad - obscuring their and everyone around them's view of the actual event.

    Ruth is a sad story of a pregnant widow's meeting with her husband's unpleasant mourning mother. It has a great surprise (to me) ending with an important message - don't get cocky, kid! Vonnegut's description, for me, gets lost in his novels' twisty plots. These short stories really show us what he's got. Ruth threw back the covers, and walked to the window, needing the refreshment of a look at the outdoors. There was only a brick wall a few feet away, chinked with snow. She tiptoed down the hall, toward the big living room windows that framed the blue Adirondack foothills.

    While Mortals Sleep features some of the grumpy opinions that are the reason why Vonnegut is one of my favorites. The contestants dangle colored electric lights all over the fronts of their houses, and the man whose meter goes around fastest wins. That's Christmas for you.
    I'm not a religious man and I'm not a family man, and eggnog gives me gastritis, so the hell with Christmas.
    It was a salmon-pink mansion with a spike fence, iron flamingos, and five television aerials- combining in one monster the worst features of Spanish architecture, electronics, and sudden wealth.

    Love these stories!

  8. britt_brooke britt_brooke says:

    Not stellar, but a decent collection. And the artwork was a nice touch.


    • Ruth
    • Out, Brief Candle
    • The Man Without No Kiddleys

  9. Andrew Nguyen Andrew Nguyen says:

    I love Vonnegut, but I don't love this collection of short stories. If Welcome to the Monkey House is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on DVD, then While Mortals Sleep is 1.5 hours of Gollum outtakes and bloopers. It's entertaining for fans, but not that strong on its own.

    Vonnegut is a master of taking a small slice of science fiction and turning it into a story about human relations. That is almost entirely absent in this collection, as this is a collection of earlier Vonnegut works. The essential, casual tone of Vonnegut is present, but these stories are from very early in Vonnegut's career and lack a bit of polish. The stories all have simple stories and simple morals (freedom is good, money can't make you happy). This isn't necessarily bad, but the moral is almost always buried until the very end which kind of made these stories read similarly and melt together.

    My favorite stories were Jenny, the story about the man who made a robot duplicate of his wife; Money Talks, where a fortune literally has a voice in the narration; and 10K A Year, the story about an wannabe opera singer who happily settles as a donut vendor. If you're a big Kurt Vonnegut fan, you'll probably like this book. If you haven't read Welcome to the Monkey House or any of Vonnegut's novels, I would suggest going after those first.

  10. Ken Ken says:

    I often feel that posthumous releases of an author's early work are little more than a money grab by the publisher. However, in this case, I'm glad these early stories made their way into the world.

    This is a side of Vonnegut that fans of his later work may not completely appreciate, but I enjoyed all the stories. Warm, often funny, and with a gentle reminder of the simpler morals of a time long passed, the stories are a light read--well worth it for anyone who appreciates short fiction.