Kurt Vonnegut’s books, no matter how slim, tend to dribble off into nowhere. Except this one.
This was the first Vonnegut I ever read, and in bookstores all over the world I’ve kept an eye out for it. I found it on the road and spent my overnight at Heathrow (times is hard) with a long-lost buddy. A sincere, cynical, unreasonable buddy who wants to know: What do we do about humans who are too stupid and useless to be loved?
Eliot Rosewater, heir to the 14th largest family fortune in America, has escaped the coop. Eccentric to begin with and wrecked by WWII, Eliot drunkenly lands in the soul-rottingly worthless town of Rosewater in Rosewater County, Indiana. To the horror of Senator Rosewater and the adoration of the useless, Eliot lives in his long underwear in a shabby office with two phones: a bright red firehouse phone and a black phone whose number is plastered all over Rosewater County.
“Who the hell are you?”
“The Government. If I’m not a Church, and I still want to keep people from killing themselves, I must be the Government. Right?”
The man muttered something.
“Or the Community Chest,” said Eliot.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“Maybe you think it’s funny to put up signs about people who want to commit suicide.”
“Are you about to?”
“And what if I was?”
“I wouldn’t tell you the gorgeous reasons I have discovered for going on living.”
“What would you do?”
“I’d ask you to name the rock-bottom price you’d charge to go on living for just one more week.”
There was a silence.
“Did you hear me?” said Eliot.
“I heard you.”
“If you’re not going to kill yourself, would you please hang up? There are other people who’d like to use the line.”
“You sound so crazy.”
“You’re the one who wants to kill himself.”
“What if I said I wouldn’t live through the next week for a million dollars?”
“I’d say, ‘Go ahead and die.’ Try a thousand.”
“Go ahead and die. Try a hundred.”