This book is marketed as a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s lessons on writing from his career as a teacher. In reality, it’s more of a guide to writing written by Suzanne McConnell, one of Vonnegut’s pupils at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in the mid-1960s. McConnell quotes from her famous teacher often, but anyone expecting a book in any way “written” by Kurt Vonnegut should be forewarned. Frankly, it feels dishonest that he is presented as a co-author on the cover.
McConnell presents a lot of Vonnegut’s advice, both from the classroom and from his published essays in such collections as Palm Sunday and Bagombo Snuff Box. She uses these snippets to offer up her own opinions, agreeing or disagreeing at her discretion. As for her advice? It’s all over the place, and so wishy-washy it’s impossible to pin down enough to evaluate. Essentially, what this book boils down to is McConnell saying, “Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut said about developing characters, or revising, etc.” and then going over what makes sense to her about that advice but also why it might not work for everyone. She never really takes a stand herself, which becomes a little infuriating after a while. She’s also big on saying stuff like, “you know, you don’t have to write a novel” which isn’t exactly something people who buy a book on writing want to hear.
I received this book as a Christmas present because I’m a big Vonnegut fan, but I was worried that this would be little more than an effort to grab some cash on the back of his famous name. I think I’m justified in saying that my worries were correct.