Picks and Pans Review: Fates Worse Than Death

updated 09/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Kurt Vonnegut

In characterizing this sequel to his 1981 memoir, Palm Sunday, Vonnegut admits, "Not that anyone was clamoring for one." Such modesty cannot disguise the thinness of this collection of essays and speeches.

What Vonnegut has going for him is that mock-disingenuous voice. In his prime he could marshal deceptively simple plainspokenness and skillfully toss in illuminating analogies. Thus could he sneak up on unexpected truths about the human condition.

No longer. In an often weary tone that mixes nostalgia with nihilism, Vonnegut drifts through quirky ruminations on politics, painters, writers and his family, including his marriage to photographer Jill Krementz, of whom he says, "The older she was the more beautiful she became." (They filed for divorce after the book went to press.)

The most interesting parts of the book are parenthetical asides, such as the fact that he is nursing a grudge against Walter Cronkite. ("Imagine being an American and being treated like something the cat drug in by the most trusted man in America!")

Otherwise there's not much to admire in this literary closet-cleaning, the somewhat creaky machinations of a man who was once a most original stylist. (Putnam, $22.95)

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