Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ginger Strand's "The Brothers Vonnegut"

Ginger Strand grew up in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, but mostly on a farm in Michigan. She is the author of one novel and three books of narrative nonfiction, including Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate. She has published essays and fiction in many places, including Harper's, The Believer, Tin House, The Iowa Review, The New England Review and the New York Times, as well as This Land and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. In addition to writing frequently about collisions between nature, culture, science and the arts, Strand frequently works with photographers, and has contributed essays to photography books by Lisa Kereszi, Kyler Zeleny, and the Magnum Agency project Postcards from America.

Strand applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Brothers Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut is feeling frustrated at his PR job at General Electric. His brother Bernard, a brilliant scientist, is making headlines at GE with his startling new project: weather control. Kurt is trying hard to be a good company man, while trying to write marketable short stories at night and on weekends. But his efforts are only getting him a stack of rejection slips. And the position he had hoped would be a safe, easy job to feed his family while he launched his writing career is beginning to feel like a trap.
The new section opens like this:
Kurt was doing his best for GE. But it wasn’t enough to applaud every new gadget or machine the company cooked up as if it would change the world. It wasn’t enough to obey your GE boss and play softball on a GE team and buy your appliances at the GE employee store. The company wanted to tell you how to think too.

Every week or so, a new poster went up, Lemuel Boulware’s florid signature at the bottom. “Why must we SAVE more—as well as PRODUCE more?” “Should pay be equal everywhere?” “What is Communism? What is Capitalism? What is the Difference to You?” You could be sure Mr. Boulware—a.k.a. Mr. Bullwhip—would tell you the answers. He had all the answers, Mr. Bullwhip did. Mr. Bullshit was more like it, at least as Kurt saw it. Boulware’s messages to the employees were unabashedly pro-America and anti-labor.
This is fairly representative of something I was trying to do throughout this book, something I have never done before: write nonfiction from a close-in third-person point of view. I wanted the book to read like a novel, even as it was strictly factual, and fully documented in endnotes. I wanted the reader to feel like she was in Kurt Vonnegut’s head, or Bernard Vonnegut’s head, as the two brothers navigated the moral landscape of America in the new atomic age.
Learn more about the book and author at Ginger Strand's website.

The Page 99 Test: Killer on the Road.

--Marshal Zeringue