While Mortals Sleep is the newest anthology of the late Kurt Vonnegut’s unpublished short fiction. Think of it as the eagerly-awaited third volume of his worthwhile ephemera, sitting alongside of 2008’s Armageddon in Retrospect and 2009’s Look at the Birdie. The new book collects work from the great author and satirist’s youth that were never published and material either rejected by magazines or else never submitted in the first place.
Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly had to say:
The 16 previously unpublished short stories of this collection, taken from the beginning of Vonnegut’s career, show a young author already grappling with themes and ideas that would define his work for decades to come. “Girl Pool” features typist Amy Lou Little, employee of the Kafkaesque Montezuma Forge and Foundry Company, who is tasked with transcribing a plea for help she receives on her Dictaphone from an escaped, dying murderer hiding somewhere in the works of the company’s cavernous factory. The tale reveals Vonnegut investigating one of his recurring themes: the isolation brought by technology and the necessity for basic humanity in the workplace. The title story melds a sentimental meditation on the true meaning of Christmas with elements of the mystery genre as a hard-nosed reporter stalks the story of stolen nativity scene characters. While these early stories show an author still testing the boundaries of his craft and obsessions, Vonnegut’s acute moral sense and knack for compelling prose are very much on display. In the foreword, Dave Eggers calls Vonnegut “a hippie Mark Twain,” which perfectly captures an essential truth about this esteemed author.
Below, Vonnegut “grades” his own novels, with Charlie Rose.