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Rocky Mountain News (CO)

October 7, 1997

Author: Alan Dumas, Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer[]

What would have happened if Dostoevsky had taken Prozac?

“He would have just farted around until someone told him to get a job,” Kurt Vonnegut Jr. says.  And what if the young Vonnegut had been treated with the same drug?

“I’d still be a PR man in Schenectady,” he says.

Vonnegut, a great American novelist and monopolar depressive, will appear tonight at the Tattered Cover Book Store in lower downtown.

“When I was at the Writer’s Workshop in Iowa, the University of Iowa medical center realized they had a lot of professional writers to study,” Vonnegut remembers.

“It turned out a lot of us were monopolar depressives from families of monopolar depressives. That explains why my mother committed suicide. I’ve been hospitalized twice for really bad depression, and I’ve tried Prozac. It’s bad news for people who have to be self-motivated. If you have a boss and a routine, it’s probably good, but not if you have to get yourself out of bed. It put me out of business.”

Vonnegut’s new book, Timequake, is filled with meditations on why life is a miserable experience that many hate, along with equally convincing meditations on why it’s an honor to be alive. He’s announced that it will be his last book.

“It took me a lot of time to realize what this book should be,” Vonnegut says. “It’s my last chapter, the last chapter `This is it,’ Vonnegut says of new book to all the rest of my work. All my books are in print, and this is it. After a while, Jesus Christ himself would have started repeating himself. Many writers died young with a sense of being incomplete. Thank God I lived long enough to finish.”

Of course, Vonnegut doesn’t really believe in God. He’s a humanist, a free thinker. Nonetheless, many of his novels, notably Cats Cradle and The Sirens of Titan, have been concerned with God and the order of the universe.

“John Updike said I was a funny atheist because I talk about God more than any seminarian,” Vonnegut says. “It’s an interesting idea, a handle on life. What we free thinkers say is, if what Jesus said was wise and good, what does it matter if he’s God or not? The Sermon on the Mount was wonderful.”

In Vonnegut’s opinion, the sermon was about how tough it is to be alive. He agrees with Thoreau that many lead lives of quiet desperation.

“How many people have lives worth living?” he asks. “I’d say 17% seems about right. Thank God mine was one of them.”

Vonnegut’s fanciful and meandering plots would seem to make his books almost impossible to adapt for the movies, but people keep trying. George Roy Hill did a nice job with Slaughterhouse-Five in 1972, and last year Mother Night with Nick Nolte got good reviews.

“It’s the best acting Nolte ever did,” Vonnegut says. “He worked practically for free. He said he took the role because it reminded him of why he became an actor in the first place.”

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead tried for years to bring The Sirens of Titan to the screen.

“I met with the Grateful Dead at La Guardia Airport,” Vonnegut recalls. “They didn’t know whether to offer me a joint or not. They couldn’t do business without one. I said `no thanks.’ ”

Now the team that made Mother Night is working on The Sirens of Titan.

Although not a big fan of book tours, Vonnegut says he loves Denver, especially the Tattered Cover, the 1 / 1 Gallery, where he displayed his artwork last year, and the Wynkoop Brewery, owned by John Hickenlooper, the son of an old fraternity brother.

“John’s father died when he was 6 or so,” Vonnegut says. “So I knew his father better than he did. In our fraternity house at Cornell, he sold chewing gum and stuff. He called his store Hickenlooper’s Lockenbar. We called it Lockenlooper’s Hickenbar.”

Vonnegut is now 74. He’s written 15 novels, two books of nonfiction and one great play, Happy Birthday Wanda June. He says that should be enough.

And if we need an epitaph for his life and career? He suggests his disclaimer in Timequake: “All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. will read and sign his latest book, Timequake, at 7:30 p.m. today at the Tattered Cover in lower downtown,1628 16th St. Free tickets for a place in line will be distributed beginning at 6:30 p.m. Information: 436-1070.

Record Number:  9710090117