I love a bit of Vonnegut, but I started reading Deadeye Dick back in 2012 and barely got a quarter of the way through it. I got bored, despite enjoying his trademark one-liners and deliciously scathing tone.
This time around I finished the whole thing in just a couple of days, but those first few chapters were still a bit of a slog.
The story follows Rudy Waltz, son of a rich, fake artist, who found himself guilty of double murder at the tender age of 12. We see what leads to the fateful murders, what comes afterwards, and how Rudy is affected by it for the rest of his life.
It all sounds a bit dull when I put it that way, but bear in mind that it’s a Vonnegut novel; there’s a radioactive fireplace, a neutron bomb, a suicide, references to Hitler, tonnes of recipes, and a bunch of other weird and wonderful titbits thrown in along the way.
The plot jumps about here, there and everywhere, often confusingly so. Most characters have at least one major flaw that make them seriously unlikeable. Rudy Waltz himself is irritatingly submissive and indifferent about life. But despite all that, I really did enjoy Deadeye Dick. There’s just something about Vonnegut’s style that hooks me.
Would I recommend it to others? If you already love Vonnegut, sure. If you’re new to his work – absolutely not. Start with Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse 5 instead; they’re still weird and wonderful, but I think they have a bit more structure and tighter plots.
I’ll leave you with my favourite line from Deadeye Dick, one which resonated with me so powerfully that I’d quite like to rip it off and make it my personal catchphrase:
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That is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.