Kurt Vonnegut, 74, the playful moralist who tickled the minds of the baby boom generation, claims this is his last book. In it, he struts his inner curmudgeon, plays out a final sci-fi mind warp and revisits old friends in a muddled stew of autobiography and fiction. Timequake may be Vonnegut's last, but alas, it's not his best.
The book's premise—that the universe has suffered an involuntary time spasm, setting back the clock 10 years—is an awkward shovel for digging into the concepts of free will, responsibility and fate. It's also an excuse to bring back Kilgore Trout, his self-confessed "alter ego." Unfortunately, Trout, an even grumpier old cuss than Vonnegut, is a one-dimensional study who does his creator little justice.
What goes awry as a novel doesn't fail altogether as a farewell, however. Timequake's saving grace is its wealth of parables, memories and family portraits—the mixed bag of nostalgia and wisdom that you'd expect from a Sunday afternoon on the porch with Grandpa Kurt. (Putnam, $23.95)