Please join us Wednesday, April 11th at 7 PM at the Baldwin Public Library ( 300 West Merrill Street Birmingham, MI) for a presentation with Gregory Sumner on his recently published book Unstuck in Time: A Journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels. This event is free and open to the public and is for anyone interested in contemporary writing or the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut, truly one of our nations most esteemed authors. For more information, please call the Baldwin Library at: 248-647-1700 or the Book Beat at 248-968-1190.
Sumner does well to contextualize contemporary events both in the world and the writer’s personal life during each novel’s conception, ultimately connecting many dots in the Vonnegut oeuvre. – Publisher’s Weekly
“In his chapter on Night Mother, Sumner zeroes in on the novel’s insistence on the impossibility of true moral purity through its portrayal of a protagonist who embodies the role of both war criminal and war hero: “He opens us to the disturbing malleability of the human soul, insists that there is no place of purity and ‘clean hands’ to which we can safely and finally retreat.” – Kirkus reviews
In Unstuck in Time, Gregory Sumner guides us, with insight and passion, through a biography of fifteen of Kurt Vonnegut’s best known works, his fourteen novels starting with Player Piano (1952) all the way to an epilogue on his last book, A Man Without a Country (2005), to illustrate the quintessential American writer’s profound engagement with the “American Dream” in its various forms.
Sumner gives us a poignant portrait of Vonnegut and his resistance to celebrating the traditional values associated with the American Dream: grandiose ambition, unbridled material success, rugged individualism, and “winners” over “losers.” Instead of a celebration of these values, we read and share Vonnegut’s outrage, his brokenhearted empathy for those who struggle under the ethos of survival-of-the-fittest in the frontier mentality—something he once memorably described as “an impossibly tough-minded experiment in loneliness.”
Heroic and tragic, Vonnegut’s novels reflect the pain of his own life’s experiences, relieved by small acts of kindness, friendship, and love that exemplify another way of living, another sort of human utopia, an alternative American Dream, and the reason we always return to his books.
GREGORY D. SUMNER, JD, PhD, is chair of history at the University of Detroit Mercy, where he has taught since 1993. He holds a doctorate in American history from Indiana University and is the author of Dwight Macdonald and the Politics Circle. Sumner has been awarded summer fellowships by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has twice been William J. Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the Université di Roma Tre. Watch a live radio interview with Gregory Sumner.