The 20,000-word Basic Training was written in the 1940s, while Vonnegut still worked for General Electric.
Image via LIFE.
Basic Training, a previously unpublished novella by Kurt Vonnegut written while the author was working for General Electric in the 1940s, has shot to the top of ebook charts.
The Slaughterhouse-Five author’s 20,000-word novella has just been published by American digital press Rosetta Books, and has already taken the top slot on Amazon’s Kindle chart. Described as a “bitter, profoundly disenchanted story which satirises the military, authoritarianism, gender relationships, parenthood and most of the assumed mid-century myths of the family”, the book was written while Vonnegut was working in public relations for GE and writing fiction as a sideline, long before the release of his more famous novels.
Vonnegut submitted Basic Training to the Saturday Evening Post under the pseudonym Mark Harvey, but it was rejected, and went unreleased until Rosetta chose it from the author’s unpublished archive. The story centres on a teenage pianist, Haley, who stays at the farm of his crazy relative, a man who insists on being called the General. Basic Training contains Vonnegut’s “grand themes”, said Rosetta Books: “Trust no one, trust nothing; the only constants are absurdity and resignation, which themselves cannot protect us from the void but might divert.” As the story progresses, Haley will defy the General’s “deranged” military values.
Rosetta said the novella reveals an unexpected influence on Vonnegut’s writing: namely, JD Salinger, whose short stories in the 1940s regularly featured disaffected teenage protagonists. “All of them came to learn that the people who ran the show were as crazy and dangerous as those nominally on the other side,” said the publisher. “Shortly after these semi-whimsical social portraits were published, Salinger, like Vonnegut, was drafted, shipped into combat and involved in the Battle of the Bulge.”